On the second day of his meetings with Knesset factions to hear their nominations for the leader they think will succeed in forming a government, President Reuven Rivlin met with the smaller parties, from Yesh Atid to Kulanu to Yisrael Beytenu and concluding with Meretz.
Rivlin told the Meretz faction that even though it is the smallest and has known its up and downs, it is an inalienable asset to Israeli politics.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and MK Ilan Gilon, who headed the Meretz delegation, though at great variance in ideology, each told Rivlin that even more important than forming a government was the healing of rifts in Israeli society. Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon voiced similar sentiments.
All three men said that they could not remember an election that was marred by so much hatred, hostility, racism, rancor, and verbal and physical violence, and asked Rivlin to do all that he could to unite the nation.
Rivlin took the request a step further, saying it isn’t just a matter of ideological differences between religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, rich and poor, but also between Jews and Arabs.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej, reminded Rivlin that he had written to him two days earlier, not as an MK but as a citizen on behalf of the Arab community, asking for the president’s protection against racism. “We are entitled to a defense against racism,” he said, adding that he is afraid that under the incoming right-wing government there would be an escalation of racism.
He also demanded that the prime minister apologize publicly for his Election Day incitement against Arab voters who comprise 20 per cent of the population of Israel. Frej warned that racism has no limits.
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It starts with the Arabs, then the leftists, and then the Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, he said. “We want a society in which everyone regardless of race, religion, or political ideology will have a place.”
He is not asking Netanyahu to forfeit his dignity, he clarified.
“All he has to do is say that he’s sorry and that he made a mistake.”
Rivlin declared that the escalation of racism and violence can lead not only to personal tragedy but to national tragedy and called on all Israelis, particularly the leadership, to desist from all expressions that could be interpreted as incitement and racism.
Rivlin told the Meretz faction that when he was an MK there was a great difference between their world view and his, but these differences had been bridged in the spirit of friendship and mutual acknowledgment that everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint. “I pray that hatred will be eliminated from Israel.” he said.
At 75 years of age, Rivlin is older than any of the faction members who met with him on Sunday and Monday and can remember times of “intense hatred” which almost led to civil war, he noted, adding, “but we managed to overcome the hostilities and to develop a beautiful country.”
Gilon noted that despite their differences what Rivln and Meretz people have in common is their respect for other individuals.
It’s precisely because Meretz believes that there is a place for everyone that the faction admires Rivlin’s ability to bring about unity and calm, said Gilon.
When Yesh Atid met with Rivlin, MK Yael German, the leader of the delegation, wasted no time on small talk but immediately announced: “It’s obvious that it will be a right wing government so we will sit in the opposition.”
Rabbi Dov Lipman, who was a member of the 19th Knesset but not sufficiently high on the Yesh Atid list to continue to the 20th Knesset, was also part of the delegation. When asked by The Jerusalem Post why Yesh Atid would not join the coalition even without portfolios in order to keep the haredim who refuse to sit with them out of the government, he responded: “The prime minister announced during the campaign that he views the haredi parties as his natural partners and he also announced that he supports changes to the draft law. This is the basis for the coalition.
So, we cannot join a coalition based on that premise – it has nothing to do with ministerial positions. “ Lipman also voice his assurance that “if they [the haredim] try to change the draft law and all the other good things we did, we will fight it from the opposition and in the courts.”
Liberman said that it is a tradition with Yisrael Beytenu not to reveal its nomination to the media before presenting it to the president, and that’s what he will be doing again in four years’ time. Liberman declared that it is absurd to have elections every two years, for it is impossible to make long-range plans.
Rivlin said he hopes there would be electoral reform by the next elections, so as to avoid primaries and allow the public to vote for candidates who are its true representatives. But he is resigned to the fact that this will happen only when there is a constitution. Even so, he said, the law should be changed to automatically enable the leader of the largest faction to form a government even if that means a minority government.
Rivlin also said that the time has come to discuss the meaning of a Jewish state and who is a Jew.
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