President Reuven Rivlin in the West Bank Peduel settlement.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I began to write a column to suggest out-of-the-box ideas for Israel-Palestinian coexistence, something that President Reuven Rivlin had asked for in an interview with this newspaper’s Greer Fay Cashman prior to his trip to the United States. I reviewed many of my ideas, and I realized that with the present corrupt and self-serving leadership of the Palestinian Authority no idea can work. And in the present Israeli government, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has practically no chance to effectuate even the few gestures he wanted to make toward the Palestinians, there are no partners for peace.
Except perhaps... just perhaps, and maybe even probably, the few Arab states which have strong governments could impose a negotiated peace upon the Palestinian Authority. The stable Arab states are not exactly town-hall democratic. Okay, but who says the world should be cast in the image of the United States? Stability and prevention of mass internecine bloodshed is all we can hope for in today’s Middle East. So who is there? Right now, we have Egypt, Saudi Arabia, some of the Gulf states, and that’s about it.
But who can be optimistic in the Middle East of 2015? And who cannot help being upset by the hypocrisy which forgives Muslim killers and by default blame Israel or the West. In this regard, The Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman this week (December 8) wrote a brilliant article on “Terrorist Privilege.”
Finally, dear reader, I decided to share with you my thoughts on people of honor. This was triggered by two occurrences this week: one personal and one national.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, some are born persons of honor, some achieve honor, and some have it thrust upon them. On the personal level, we attended the 90th birthday celebration of Estelle Fink. Unusually, she and her late husband, Dr. Ted Fink, were both recipients of the Yakir Yerushalayim (Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem) award.
To describe all the initiatives and accomplishments of Estelle, whom I know for about 50 years, would fill a column on its own. Her impact was and is felt in fields ranging from Jewish art and Torah study to action on behalf of the weaker elements in our society.
While doing all this, the Finks hosted luminaries in the Jewish world, as well as their wide circles of local friends. Estelle Fink is also an involved materfamilias of a family of many dozens of offspring, down to the fourth generation. All these, accomplished so naturally and as it were “easily,” brought me to conclude that she is a person of honor from birth.
On the national level, we have the president, Reuven Rivlin. He was born into a highly respected Jerusalem household. The Rivlins go back to 1809 in Jerusalem, and the president’s father, Prof. Yoel Yosef Rivlin, was a noted Arabist who translated the Koran and classics such as One Thousand and One Nights into Hebrew.
I must admit that over the years my opinion of Reuven Rivlin changed. I first thought of him as a typical far-right firebrand, whose sole interest was to advance a path which would forestall peace options, at a time when such options seemed possible. Slowly and then ever more rapidly as he advanced into the role of Speaker of the Knesset, I realized that he was a man of principle and of honor.
In him I recognized the truly honorable behavior of a classic Revisionist.
Speaker Rivlin became the embodiment of democracy. He treated each MK with consideration and respect, and restored dignity to a legislature which became more and more a home for ambitious politicians and ugly fractiousness. Relations between Netanyahu and Rivlin were strained, in an inevitable clash between the opportunist seeking power at almost any price, and the man of principle constrained by dignity and loyalty.
Rivlin sought the presidency as the crowning laurels of his long career. The prime minister did all he could to ensure Rivlin would not be elected president. In the 2000 election for the presidency, Netanyahu pushed Moshe Katsav into the race against Shimon Peres. Katsav won (and sadly is now in prison for rape and harassment). In 2007, Peres was elected by the Knesset. Only last year did Reuven Rivlin achieve his aspiration. His respect for the Arab minority, and strict fairness toward all parties as speaker (much to Netanyahu’s displeasure) had won him votes from all sides of the Knesset.
Now he is in the United States. In the ongoing strained relations between Israel’s president and prime minister, President Rivlin one-upped Netanyahu by simply taking a regular El Al flight to New York, and then taking the train to Washington.
Before leaving Israel, President Rivlin wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post in which he called for taking steps in the “here and now” to improve life for residents of east Jerusalem. He said that this had been neglected by both Israel’s Right and its Left. He wrote that “cultivating cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, educators and cultural figures improves our situation.”
His remarks on east Jerusalem were reportedly interpreted by anonymous Likud ministers as criticism of the government, something which by custom is not done when abroad. In this attack on the president while abroad, another ugly face of this government was seen. Forget for a moment whether you agree or disagree with its policies, think of respect – of the deference due to a president abroad. The criticism voiced against Rivlin while he is abroad breaches the same custom these anonymous sources cite. Could this not have waited until his return? This back-biting is motivated by the fact that President Rivlin will undoubtedly find a better relationship with President Obama and the US political figures he meets than the prime minister. Regardless, Israel’s president steers his way in honor and in dignity.
I believe he is by nature noble. He has also achieved a unique nobility which does honor to us all.
Avraham Avi-hai had occasion to observe closely a number of Israeli presidents ranging from the second, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, to Shimon Peres, in his various roles in government and as world chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.