President Reuven Rivlin and Graffiti in Bnei Brak calling Rivlin a Nazi-converter. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/COURTESY)
Graffiti targeting President Reuven Rivlin surfaced in the mostly haredi city of Bnei Brak around 4 a.m. on Wednesday, blasting him as a “Nazi apostate from Judaism,” accusing him of blasphemy and comparing him to a “false idol” in two sharply worded texts.
Police were alerted to the text sprayed on a wall and forensic investigators were dispatched to investigate.
The graffiti against Rivlin appeared after a speech he made on Monday at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session that gained a lot of traction as well as criticism. In his address Rivlin harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, hinting that it was steering Israel away from the democratic values upon which the Jewish state was founded.
Rivlin said that he witnessed a “continued effort to weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy.”
Speaking about the justice system and the government, the president continued: “There is an abyss between the responsible and courageous attempt to define, after years, the relations between the legislative and judicial branches, to draw borders for judicial criticism, ask questions about appointments, aim for a more varied and representative group of judges – and the attempt to terrorize the [Supreme] Court, weaken it as an institution and invite the public to undermine its authority and rulings.”
“Can’t there be effective polemics between the branches of government without it being a zero-sum game?” Rivlin asked.
Netanyahu released a statement condemning the graffiti, saying “There is no place for this in Israel’s public discourse.”
Members of Knesset also immediately came to the president’s defense, condemning the anonymous perpetrators and the use of aggressive and radical language to denounce a public figure.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein spoke out fiercely against the incident, saying that he wished to express “utter contempt for the grave text that was sprayed against Rivlin.” Edelstein added that “the broken dialogue that is common in the country is deteriorating from day to day and could harm [the] souls [of people], and that’s why everyone ought to condemn such deeds and act against phenomena of incitement harshly and mercilessly.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid took to Twitter to defend Rivlin, asking, “To whoever incited against the president yesterday and was ‘shocked’ today by the hate graffiti against him – what did you think was going to happen?” MK Amir Peretz (Labor) issued his own response, writing: “One should recruit a supertanker to extinguish the fire of hatred that is threatening to eat up every good part of the country.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog echoed the other MKs’ sentiments, saying he predicted that the backlash against the president would worsen.
Herzog shared his reaction on Twitter as well: “Here it comes: Two days ago I said that Rivlin will soon be dubbed a traitor. We started with the pickles [a sardonic nickname Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to describe “sourpuss” MKs] and rapidly enough we got to ‘Nazi apostate.’ Those who let their mouths run free are demanded to stop themselves immediately!” Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also denounced the graffiti and the unknown perpetrators, saying that “the police ought to bring to justice those inciting against President Rivlin. The whole political system ought to condemn such phenomena.
Freedom of speech allows for a wide range of criticism, but incitement is a grave criminal offense that has nothing to do with legitimate criticism.”
Likud MK Gila Gamliel said that “incitement against any person is unacceptable, certainly when it comes to incitement against the president or prime minister – symbols of our sovereignty.”
Gamliel called on authorities to “act with a firm hand and to eradicate any manifestations of violence and incitement, from both the Right and the Left of the political spectrum.”
The president responded to the incident on Wednesday morning, expressing faith in the significance of his role in the face of such events that divide Israeli society. He told a gathering of the Forum of CEOs and Secretaries of Local Authorities in Jerusalem on Wednesday: “It’s not simple sometimes, to carry this title – ‘public servant’ – sometimes it brings you to the line of fire, to the point of confrontation. But the inner faith in these two words [public, service] is stronger than everything – and I wish you all that it will continue and follow you always in your actions.”
Some observers said they were especially alarmed by the appearance of the graffiti against the president in the wake of his Knesset speech, as it reminded them of a politically charged and socially tense period in Israel in the days that led up to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by Yigal Amir, who was opposed to Rabin’s method and efforts to bring about a reconciliation with neighboring Arab countries.
Organizers of the annual march in memory of the late prime minister also responded to Wednesday’s attack on Rivlin, saying that they called on “all the citizens of Israel who are horrified by the inciting, derisive graffiti, to show themselves at [Tel Aviv’s] Rabin Square on Saturday, November 4 [the anniversary of the assasination].
“We ought to remove and denounce the inciters and the dividers and unify instead. The moderate, Israeli majority, both from Right and Left, must get up from their couches and come to Rabin Square to speak out in one voice against the violence, the separatism and the incitement,” they said.
Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.