(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin, who is soon to become Israel’s 10th president, usually describes himself in two ways: A man of Jerusalem and a student of Likud ideological forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Rivlin was born 74 years ago in Jerusalem to a family descended from students of the Vilna Gaon, and that lived in the city since the 19th century. His father, Yosef Yoel Rivlin, ran for president of Israel in 1952 as Likud predecessor Herut’s candidate.
The president-elect often talks about being a son of Herut, upholding classic liberal values of democracy and freedom together with a commitment to strong defense and to the Land of Israel. Rivlin opposes the formation of a Palestinian state and advocates giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians.
Rivlin strongly identifies with his city of birth, paying tribute to it in nearly all of his speeches, and has lived in Jerusalem his whole life. In television and radio interviews, he often greets interviewers with “good evening from Jerusalem.” He is also a perennial fan of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, whose games he has attended since 1946.
A lawyer by training, Rivlin entered the Knesset in 1988 and remained an MK until Tuesday, with a break between 1992 and 1996. In 2001, he was appointed communications minister and in 2003 he became Knesset speaker, a post to which he returned in 2009.
In between terms as speaker, in 2007, Rivlin ran for president for the first time, losing to Shimon Peres.
He famously cried and resigned after the first round when Peres became the clear winner.
Rivlin was known as a Knesset speaker who was not afraid to make his views known while being fair to those who disagree with him.
He spoke out against former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and against the Supreme Court’s rulings to cancel legislation in his first term.
In his second term as speaker, Rivlin courted controversy from some and brought praise from others after openly opposing bills that he felt would limit rights of minorities. He also refused to remove MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) from the Knesset following her participation in the violent Gaza flotilla in 2010.
Rivlin has known Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since childhood; in fact, he attended the nowprime minister’s brit mila. Their relationship “has had its ups and downs,” as Netanyahu put it when he reluctantly endorsed the Likud candidate for president in this year’s race.
The most recent “down” came as a result of Rivlin’s outspoken criticism of coalition bills in the previous Knesset, and, some say, to a quip Rivlin made in a Likud faction meeting about Netanyahu’s wife Sara making political appointments, which led the prime minister not to back him for another term as Knesset speaker.
As a result, Netanyahu was concerned that Rivlin’s tendencies to make his views known and their contentious relationship would make Rivlin a difficult president for him to work with.
However, Rivlin said that as president he plans to remove himself from politics and to work on promoting unity in Israel and coexistence of its many diverse population groups.
“The president must serve as a guide and social shock absorber at difficult times, and as someone who can bring understanding so we can continue to live together, in one Israeli experience, even while we argue,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week.
Rivlin is married to Nechama Rivlin and has four children. He has been a vegetarian since his late 20s and, according to a letter his wife posted to his Facebook page on Monday, likes watching Westerns.