(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In retrospect, Reuven Rivlin’s victory in the presidential election seems inevitable.
He was the front-runner all along, with the most open support from MKs and 73 percent of the public, according to polls.
Yet no political commentator worth reading or listening to was willing to gamble his or her reputation on a prediction that Rivlin would win, even though he had been campaigning for the presidency from the moment he lost the previous election seven years ago.
In fact, when MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) sent shock waves through the Knesset by coming in second place in the first round of voting, even Rivlin himself seemed sure that he was toast.
How did the safe-bet candidate turn out to be the surprise winner? This is the story of what happened on the day that turned out to be “Ruby Tuesday.”
On Monday evening, it seemed like Rivlin would definitely make it to the second round, but his opponent would be named Dalia – either former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik or former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner.
Then, political leaders in the opposition and coalition attended Shas chairman Arye Deri’s daughter’s sheva brachot and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni convinced opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) and other MKs that if Sheetrit makes it to the second round he will defeat Rivlin.
On Tuesday, during the first round, Sheetrit was the name on everyone’s lips in the Knesset, and his analysis of the political map in many interviews echoed in people’s minds: If he makes it to the second round, he’ll be a shoein, because most of the Left will vote for him, plus Yesh Atid, as well as all those on the Right who don’t like Rivlin.
Sheetrit’s ascendancy seemed inevitable when he received 31 votes and Rivlin got 44, fewer than the 50-plus votes he was expected to get from most of Likud, all of Bayit Yehudi, some of Yisrael Beytenu and a sampling of MKs from every other party in the Knesset – except Balad and Hatnua.
Yet all of those predictions fell by the wayside when Rivlin won by a ten-vote margin, and haredi parties Shas and UTJ became the Knesset’s king-makers once again after over a year of dysfunctional languishing in the opposition.
Sure, several MKs from Labor and Yisrael Beytenu shifted Rivlin’s way after the first round – MK Itzik Shmuli said that he couldn’t ignore what the public so clearly wanted – but the haredim voted as a block and clinched Rivlin’s victory.
Haredi MKs were split between Rivlin and Itzik, with more of them leaning toward Itzik in the first round in an attempt to get back at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not bringing them into the coalition – by voting against the Likud candidate.
If you’re wondering why Itzik’s gender didn’t stop them from voting for her, MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) explained it succinctly: “We work with women all the time in the Knesset, anyway, and we would hardly ever have to work with a president.”
In any case, Itzik soon became irrelevant and Shas and UTJ moved to Rivlin’s camp in unison, even though the Shas Council of Torah Sages gave its MKs freedom to vote as they wish.
A senior Shas MK explained the shift in the haredi vote thusly: “Most of us voted Rivlin because Sheetrit co-sponsored many anti-religious laws."
“It’s hard for Shas to openly support an Ashkenazi candidate over one born in Morocco, but at the end of the day, religion comes before being Sephardi,” he said.
As for why Shas was introduced to the concept of voting according to conscience for the first time, the MK said that unlike the party’s recently deceased spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was involved in politics for 30 years and to whom many politicians paid tribute, the Council of Torah Sages has only been involved for a few months.
“They don’t even know who Reuven Rivlin is, so they let us decide,” the MK shrugged.
That is the unexpected way in which the expected candidate, Rivlin, became president.