PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face off at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
In a barb against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin said on Monday that the three pillars of Israel’s political system – its legislature, administration and judiciary – are the foundations of Israel’s democracy.
Moreover, he continued, it is incumbent on elected leaders to respect the laws of the state and the authority of state institutions both in word and in deed.
Echoing the speech made by president Yitzhak Ben Zvi at Israel’s first swearing in of judges in 1953, Rivlin said the state must deserve the public’s confidence with regard to the pursuit of truth and justice.
Unfazed, Netanyahu replied that he concurred on the significance of the law in a democracy. It is a given, he said, “that decisions handed down by the court apply to all of us.”
The two were speaking at the annual state ceremony at the President’s Residence in memory of deceased presidents and prime ministers.
At the ceremony, the President’s Prize is given to the person who an eight-member committee headed by Prof. Aryeh Naor is deemed to have produced the best study of one of his deceased predecessors. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Prize is bestowed on a scholar who has produced the best work on a deceased prime minister.
While the prize is usually limited to one previous president and one previous prime minister, this year there were two of each: Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Ben Zvi in the President’s Prize category, and Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir in the Prime Minister’s Prize category.
Noting that Ben Zvi was both a political activist and an historian who researched the Samaritans, Rivlin said he was sure Ben Zvi would be pleased to know that his research was being carried on by Yitzhak Magen, who was one of the recipients of the President’s Prize.
Dr. Ron Shavit, the other recipient, dedicated his doctoral thesis to Peres’s evolution from a political leader to a statesman. Describing him as a visionary, Rivlin noted that Peres at different times was involved with Israel’s security, economy, and efforts to achieve peace. Peres, Israel’s only prime minister to also be elected president, was an inspiration, he said. While other prime ministers were also foreign minister or defense minister or both, Peres was the only one to hold all four titles.
Ben Zvi, the only person elected to serve three terms, was Israel’s longest serving president. He died before completing his third term. The law was then amended to a five-year term with an option for a second term. Chaim Herzog took that option, and his successor Ezer Weizman was keen to do the same. But two years into his second term, a serious financial indiscretion on his part was discovered. Weizman was given the choice of stepping down or facing prosecution. He chose to step down, thereby prompting another amendment restricting the president to one seven-year term.
Netanyahu said he admired what the Labor Party did to establish and develop the state. He credited Eshkol, who was a member of Kibbutz Deganya Bet, with contributing greatly to Israel’s security, land acquisition, water management and land settlement. It was Eshkol who launched the National Water Carrier, and who was prime minister in 1967 when Jerusalem was reunited.
Before becoming prime minister, Eshkol served for 11 years as finance minister. Together with Pinchas Sapir, he laid the groundwork for Israel’s economy, said Netanyahu.
Speaking of Golda Meir, Netanyahu underscored that she had been Israel’s first representative to Moscow in 1948, and had visited the Choral Synagogue where an enormous crowd had gathered chanting “Nasha Golda” (Our Golda). Referring to her fund raising and work as labor minister and foreign minister, Netanyahu said that she had opened the doors for other women to enter politics.
The Psik Theater was given the Prime Minister’s Award for two one-woman productions of In Golda’s Shoes, which told the life story of Golda Meir; and Jerusalem City Council member Dr. Laura Wharton of the Hebrew University received the prize for her dissertation on the government’s social policy under Levi Eshkol.
Honorable mentions were given to the Etzion School, together with Bet Eckstein, for its production of Golda’s Shoes; students of the Levi Eshkol School in Lod for portraits of Peres and Eshkol; and to 9th graders at the Technion Technical School in Haifa for their construction of a Levi Eshkol educational website.
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