20. Reuven Rivlin

A presidential presence

President Reuven Rivlin  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Every president of Israel, by virtue of his office, becomes an influential figure. Jewish communities abroad view him as their unofficial president; when they send top-level delegations to Israel, they always seek a meeting with the president – and usually succeed. Home-grown Israeli organizations and institutions are no less eager for meetings with the president. The photo opportunity with the president of Israel is akin to winning the lottery. When relevant, he usually updates such delegations on the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and talks to them about the importance of global Jewish unity.
The president’s influence often derives from his own involvement in social, economic and political upheavals within Israel and in its relationship with the Jewish world. Thus, it is an ongoing roller coaster ride for current president, seventh generation Jerusalemite Reuven Rivlin, 79, whose tenure has been marked by too many condolence calls to the families of victims of terrorism and of soldiers killed in the line of duty. A firm advocate for Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, Rivlin tells leaders of local and overseas delegations that there is no contradiction between the two. He says the same to foreign diplomats and visiting political dignitaries.
A long-time supporter of the LGBT community, even as speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin continues to host them and to speak out on their behalf.
Concerned at the changing ratio of Israel’s demographics, he established the Israel Hope movement with the cooperation of educational, social welfare, business and municipal organizations and institutions with the aim of fully integrating what he calls the “four tribes” with each other and into mainstream Israel. The four tribes are the secular, national religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, which Rivlin believes have minimal contact with each other.
The rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry resulting from foot dragging over an egalitarian prayer section by the Western Wall, and the stringent rules adopted by the Chief Rabbinate with regard to non-acceptance of Reform and Conservative conversions as well as conversions by Orthodox rabbis or rabbinical courts not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has created a crisis situation which Rivlin is struggling to amend. He refers to Diaspora Jewry as the fifth tribe.
“We are all brothers,” he tells every Diaspora delegation, adding that there are always disputes within families. On the local threshold, he cautioned against the enactment of the Nation State Law, and after it was passed and offended the Druze, Arab and Bedouin communities, he has taken great pains to say over and over again that he is the president of all of the citizens of
Israel. His public siding with the underdog has enhanced his popularity and his status, as have his official trips abroad.
Depending on where he is and the reason for the visit, he defends the interests of Israel and the Jewish People.
The reports that come back to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are by and large extremely favorable.