(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) came out against the use of Nazi imagery and accusations of treason in the public discourse on Wednesday, speaking at a special Knesset meeting in memory of former president Yitzhak Navon.
Navon, Israel’s fifth president, who died in November at age 94, is a role model for those who love the land, Judaism and democracy, Herzog said.
“Navon, in his being and his behavior, exemplified the way in which all those components can exist together without any contradiction,” Herzog said.
The Zionist Union leader recounted that Navon was a leading advocate of the commission of inquiry into Israel’s role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and said the current political climate, which he called “violent, ultra-nationalist, inciting and censoring,” has its roots in Navon’s time as president.
“I say, unfortunately, that society as not learned much since then. Too many years have passed, and too many people closed their eyes and consented through silence to the creation of a destructive force in Israeli society,” Herzog said.
That force is responsible for incitement against President Reuven Rivlin, Herzog said, citing a photo posted online of Rivlin in a keffiyeh. Herzog also condemned those who disseminated a doctored photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an SS uniform and a Hebrew University professor who called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked a neo-Nazi this week.
“This force...challenges the courts and rule of law, the Shin Bet, Zionism, Jewish values and our democratic infrastructure. It is a destructive force that is eating away at the foundations of the Zionist structure,” Herzog stated. “This force would not have thought twice about calling Navon a ‘traitor,’ ‘President of Hezbollah,’ ‘Nazi’ or ‘foreign plant.’” Herzog called for all MKs to stand united in the struggle for Israel’s character and against Palestinian terrorism.
“This is not a party struggle or a religious or ethnic one. It is a struggle for Israeli society’s sanity. That is Yitzhak Navon’s will,” he said.
Similarly, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid praised Navon in a way that implied criticism of those who are different from him.
“Yitzhak Navon’s true legacy is his identity. It was a complete, well-rounded, inclusive identity that did not deal, for even one minute, with negating the other,” Lapid said. “He knew what was forgotten in the State of Israel at this point, how to be himself, without constantly chasing after those who are not like him.”
Lapid emphasized an element of Navon’s life, while apparently defending Rivlin from criticism: “He was Israeli without feeling any need to hate Arabs to emphasize his Israeliness... Part of the job of being president of Israel is being president of the 1.2 million Arab citizens of the state and to promote coexistence and come out against hatred of the minority. Whoever does not understand that, does not understand what the presidency means or the job of the state.”
Earlier in the meeting, Netanyahu and Herzog sparred over etiquette.
Netanyahu opened his speech with a personal message, not reading from his notes: “I have a wish. Sometimes these speeches, which are meant to honor the memory of leaders, are used for political arguments. I ask that we stop that and show respect.”
The prime minister continued with a straightforward tribute to Navon’s life achievements, focusing on his work to bring peace, to unite the nation and his cultural contributions – including writing the long-running musical “Spanish Garden.”
“As president, he worked toward the unity of the nation and was strongly opposed to phenomena of extremism, discrimination and racism. We should remember that, especially today. We are determined to uproot this phenomenon,” Netanyahu said.
When Herzog took the stand, he responded to Netanyahu’s call for an apolitical speech by saying that, if they’re already talking about etiquette, Netanyahu should have arrived at the meeting on time.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Navon was loved by different parts of the nation, and discussed his dedication to preserving the Ladino language and the traditions of Sephardic Jewry.