President Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Admitting that he was not surprised to find a sharp decline in public confidence in the government and its financial institutions, President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday that this represents a death knell for democracy.
Rivlin was speaking after receiving a copy of the latest Democracy Index from Yohanan Plesner, a former Kadima Knesset Member and the relatively new President of the Israel Democracy Institute. Plesner noted that this was the first time that the index was being presented to Rivlin in his role of head of state, and it was Plesner’s first time to present the index.
Plesner said that the loss of public confidence poses a great challenge, and pledged that the IDI would work towards reversing this trend. He also emphasized that there is no contradiction in terms between Israel being a Jewish and democratic State or a democratic and Jewish state. There is no conflict between the two he said, adding that they are equal and linked.
The proposed Nation State legislation had prompted the concept among the public that they are not equal, but are in opposition to each other, and this kind of thinking is dangerous, he said. One of the greatest challenges according to Plesner, will be to prove this equality.
Rivlin said that key to restoring public confidence in the system was to have a proper administration, multiple transparency, and ethical behavior on the part of elected officials and public servants.
Rivlin made the point that the index shows that Israel’s citizens are equally concerned about physical security and economic security, and demand that their elected representatives raise both flags alongside each other.
He bemoaned the fact that while Israel excels in security matters it fails in the field of socio-economics.
Under the status quo young people, particularly those living in peripheral areas have no hope, Rivlin noted, and explained that hope is an important deterrent to violence, which to a large extent results from huge socio economic gaps.
A new strategy is needed, he said, in order to give hope and restore the public’s faith in the system. He was distressed that more than fifty per cent of Israelis believe that they can not make an impact regardless of which party they vote for.
The greatest danger with regard to the upcoming elections he said was disillusionment and indifference. He found it ludicrous that the lowest voter turnout is in the peripheral communities and the Arab sector which are most in need of representation in the Knesset.
Rivlin declared that responsibility for rebuilding public confidence in the system lies as much with the public itself as with the politicians, and urged the public to vote on March 17.
“The public cannot afford to be apathetic and indifferent,” he said.
He also suggested that the public cast their votes for one of the two ideological blocks in order to enable the next incoming government to function as it should.
Next, the president quoted Supreme Court President Emeritus Aharon Barak on Israel being a Jewish and a democratic state. Barak had said that 120 Members of Knesset could not change Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, nor could 120 Members of Knesset change Israel’s identity as a democratic state.
Plesner spoke of the need for reforms in many areas, but Rivlin said that most reforms could not be carried out without a constitution, which is something that Israel does not have.
Professor Tamar Hermann, who is one of the main compilers of the index, underscored that the survey was taken prior to Operation Preventive Edge, at which time Arab respondents felt that they were better integrated into mainstream Israel, but since then, there has been a regression and Arabs don’t feel as if they are part of Israeli society.
With regard to the Palestinians, surveys taken indicated that Israeli Jews are more interested than Israeli Arabs in reaching a final settlement with the Palestinians.
This was the first time in more than a decade the IDI founding president Dr. Arye Carmon was not present at the presentation of the index to the President of the State.
Carmon founded IDI in 1991 as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank to strengthen the foundations of Israel’s democracy and to help promote political reforms.