The fact that President Reuven Rivlin is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite was raised more than once at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Wednesday, during a conversation with The Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, at the Post’s Diplomatic Conference.
Katz, noting the president’s Jerusalem pedigree, asked Rivlin how he felt about his potential new neighbor, to which the president replied: “We always had neighbors, not new, we are cousins.” Noting that Jews and Arabs have been neighbors for the past 200 years, he emphasized that Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians, feel a particular kinship toward Jerusalem.
He reiterated what he has often said since assuming office three-and-a-half years ago: “We are not condemned to live together, but are destined to live together.”
As soon as both sides realize this, he said, it will end the tragedy that has plagued Jews and Muslims for so long. There is a need to build confidence between the two sides, he insisted. “We have to learn to know each other.”
Seventy-eight years ago, when Rivlin was born, there were some 200,000 Jews in the land of Israel, he said. In 1945, there were 400,000. And in 1948 – bolstered by survivors who had risen from the ashes of the Holocaust – the Jewish population increased to somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000.
Today, the population of Israel verges on nine million, of which 6.5 million are Jews.
“Our neighbors, our cousins, have to realize that we are here to stay. And we have to realize that for those born here, this is also their motherland.”
As he often does, Rivlin declared there is no conflict between running a state that is both Jewish and democratic.
With regard to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Rivlin pointed out that all new ambassadors come to Jerusalem to present their credentials.
When they meet with various government ministers, it’s in Jerusalem, and when they visit the Knesset, which has “the best show in town,” they come to Jerusalem, because “the parliament of Israel is in Jerusalem.”
Quoting prime minister Menachem Begin, Rivlin added: “Sometimes you have to state the obvious.”
Prior to his election as president, Rivlin was a die-hard Likudnik. When Katz tried to get him to comment on the current ills of Likud, he declined, saying the role of president was an apolitical position.
When the conversation turned to Diaspora Jewry, he conceded that there is a crisis between Israel and American Jewry. But he noted that there was also a crisis in the early years of the state. “We are brothers with different ideas of the connection between church and state. We have to learn to know one another. There are differences, but we are one family and understand that despite arguments and disagreements we are all one family.”
In a similar context, he pointed to the different sectors in Israel society that he said are isolated from each other. “We have to meet each other. We are all part of one nation,” he said.”
When Katz asked whether Israel was responsible for Diaspora Jews, Rivlin quoted the ancient Jewish teaching that we are responsible for each other but added, “You can’t be responsible if you don’t know each other.”
The final question that Katz asked was whether Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, might after more than 20 years in prison, receive a pardon. Rivlin made it very clear that would not happen.