A doctored image of President Reuven Rivlin wearing a keffiyeh.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Police confirmed on Monday it had launched an investigation into photos that surfaced on Monday of President Reuven Rivlin wearing a keffiyeh after he rejected an appeal from Hebron shooter Elor Azaria for a shortened jail sentence.
Azaria is serving a 14-month sentence for manslaughter after killing a neutralized Palestinian attacker in Hebron in 2016.
The photos of Rivlin are reminiscent of those that opponents of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin created in opposition to his peace talks with the Palestinians. Branded a traitor, he was assassinated in November 1995. Since then, it has been used by right wing activists wishing to brand opponents as disloyal.
Rivlin was criticized by members of the coalition, including Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) who said that it was "very unfortunate that Rivlin surrendered to improper pressure and chose to abandon Elor.''
Regev later released a statement in which she said that she "[condemns] all acts of incitement and racism against every person and against the president of the state.'' She did add, however, that criticism of Rivlin is ''practical and justified" and that it was ''unfortunate'' that he chose to reject Azaria's appeal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Monday afternoon about the incident, saying: "In democracy, you can be critical, and no one knows that better than me. Not all criticism is incitement. It’s unacceptable for the president or anyone else to be presented as a Nazi." Netanyahu continued, saying that it's wrong to say what comes from the Right is incitement, but what comes from the Left is considered freedom of speech.
Earlier in the day, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay used their weekly faction meetings in the Knesset to call upon Netanyahu to condemn the attacks on the president.
"In 24 hours, the prime minister hasn’t found time to condemn the attacks on the president," Lapid lamented. "Miri Regev, David Bitan, and Oren Hazan have been making unacceptable statements about the president, and the prime minister has been silent like a fish as if he doesn't care."
Gabbay said Netanyahu was responsible for there being a political culture that tolerates incitement.
"The prime minister is silent, because that is his culture," Gabbay said. "He sets the culture, and his emissaries implement it. He should call his emissaries to order."
MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) joined in, releasing a statement that said ''This is the moment when the prime minister must fulfill his position and stop the undermining of the gatekeepers that harm the foundations of democracy and all public norms." He added that the images of Rivlin in a keffiyeh amounted to incitement.
While no credible death threats to Rivlin have been made, over 1,500 Israelis have signed a petition calling for Netanyahu to abolish Rivlin's position as president.
One user repeated the call on Facebook, demanding the cancellation of the institution of the presidency.
Aside from photos of the president in a keffiyeh, social media users posted memes of the president, attacking him and his rejection of Azaria's appeal. One read, in reference to Azaria "He's not guilty, he cries for help and he's not taken care of" while another post showed a photo of Rivlin with the brazen overlay text "You are not my president."