Had he been running in any kind of election on Friday afternoon, President Reuven Rivlin, a former Likud MK, would have won unanimous approval – not necessarily from his former colleagues on the Right, but from those on the Left.
Disturbed by the threats and curses aimed at Rivlin on social media, the Labor Young Guard together with the Labor Student Movement organized a Kabbalat Shabbat opposite the President’s Residence on Friday and made it public through SMS alerts to Labor Party members, newspapers, radio and social media.
Despite the heat and the proximity to Shabbat, several hundred people – not all of them Jerusalemites – came to show their support for Rivlin.
Many came with babies or with toddlers perched on their shoulders. Some came with dogs. There were young and old, religious and secular, political and apolitical, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, young, middle aged and senior, straights and GLBTs.
The demonstrators were prevented by police from congregating on the corner where demonstrations usually take place and were pushed back into Radak Street where they could barely be seen by passing traffic. As the crowd swelled, however, it became difficult for the police to contain it as participants began to fill the sidewalk. Among the members of Knesset who attended were Labor Party secretary-general Hilik Bar, who carried his young daughter in his arms, and Michal Biran At first it was uncertain whether Rivlin would come out to meet his well-wishers.
A spokesman for the president said that it was possible, but that it would depend on developments.
Yael Sinai, the deputy chairwoman of the Labor Young Guard said that the gathering was a show of support for Rivlin who is courageously facing the threats against him and is not backing down on his principles. “Even though we don’t agree with him on everything,” she said, “we came to thank him for displaying moral responsibility in all that he does wherever he goes.”
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Describing her colleagues as “the generation of the Rabin assassination,” Sinai said of the current crisis of verbal assaults on the national leadership, “We will not be silent and we will ensure that those who incite will be distanced from the screen and the microphone.”
Israel Prize laureate Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom, the sister of Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and the daughter of former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, already dressed in her white Sabbath finery, said: “I came because I am a citizen of this country – not Left, not Right, not religious, not irreligious – but because the president is dear to all of us and we will not allow any harm to come to him.”
Bar Shalom warned that Israel’s enemies are carefully monitoring the rifts in Israeli society so that they can pounce when they think that Israel is falling asunder. “This is why unity is so important,” she said.
Tomer Persico, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, said that he had never voted Likud in his life and doubted that he would ever be inclined to do so. Nonetheless, when he heard that Rivlin was running for president last year, he was very pleased and had endorsed him wherever and whenever possible. He was delighted that Rivlin had succeeded in his quest, and since then “I have not been disappointed,” he said.
If Labor supports Rivlin at this time, “It illustrates the extent of the crisis,” Persico continued.
Jerusalem Municipal Council representative Itai Gutler characterized Rivlin as “a true Jerusalemite.”
Gutler was just winding up his speech when Rivlin crossed the road to cheers, whistles and applause. As he drew level with Sinai, Rivlin, with a grin from ear to ear, applauded the crowd. He said that even though there were occasional disagreements between him and those present there was consensus that everyone wanted something good for the other and for the nation as a whole. He said that he was extremely moved by the outpouring of support, and, looking up at people hanging over their balconies, commented that the meeting might be disturbing the neighbors, for which he apologized.
It was patently obvious that the neighbors didn’t mind. Despite the differences, Rivlin said that he was aware of the extent to which the nation is united during times of hardship, crisis and danger, especially when there is fear of the shadow of the other.
But even at other times he said, the citizens of Israel pass the test, and want to have equality for all.
Rivlin was presented with a bunch of flowers which he held aloft like a trophy as he turned to go back to his residence, but along the way he worked the front of the crowd to cries of ‘Long live the president, Long live the king!” As Rivlin once more crossed the road, there was a loud chorus of “Ruvi! Ruvi! Ruvi!” Liturgical singer Rabbi David Menachem quoted verses from the Psalms aimed at those who breed hatred and concluded with the verse from Psalm 34, Mi ha’ish hachafetz haim (Who is the man who desires life, who loves all his days to see good. Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit. Turn away from bad and do good. Seek peace and pursue it). After reciting it, Menachem began to sing it and the crowd joined in as a Sabbath tribute to the president of the state.
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