Reuven Rivlin at Western Wall after winning presidency..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud candidate and "man of Jerusalem" Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin was voted 10th president of Israel Tuesday after a dramatic day of voting.
Rivlin opened his victory speech with a prayer of thanks, adding that now he is leaving the Likud to become the president of all Israelis: "Jews, Arabs, Druse, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less."
"We are at the end of a long, exciting election season, in which the public's trust in the presidency was harmed," the president-elect said in reference to the scandal-plagued campaign. "As president, I must rehabilitate that trust. I will continue to serve the public faithfully."
Rivlin continued, shedding tears of joy: "I start my way to a new home not far from here, in Jerusalem, Israel's capital. The house I go to is for all Israelis. It will be open to everyone...for a united Israeli experience. From this point, I am not a political person, I am one of the nation.
"Long live Israeli democracy! Long live the State of Israel!" Rivlin concluded.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who supported Rivlin's candidacy reluctantly, said he is sure the President-Elect will succeed in his two major jobs, to unite the nation and represent Israel to the world, and that the two of them will work in cooperation.
"You are a man of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel and the First Citizen of the State of Israel. You are inspired by a deep well of Israeli and Zionist and Jewish tradition, values we both know well," the prime minister said.
Rivlin won the second round of voting with 63 seats, with MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) trailing behind with 53.
Despite the wide margin between the two candidates, Rivlin's victory was far from a sure thing and the tension in the air in the Knesset was palpable throughout the day.
The first round of voting began with the vast majority of the Knesset gathered in the plenum and MKs loudly chatting with one another as over 400 cameramen and reporters observed them.
Many in the Knesset were exhausted by a long, dirty campaign that included an investigation of potential candidate Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom for sexual harassment, which was dropped due to lack of evidence, anonymous, critical videos of Rivlin, accusations of Sheetrit paying off a former domestic worker to be silent for an unexplained reason, which he denied, and MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) rescinding his candidacy after police began an looking into allegations that he illegally received funds to pay for his apartment in Jaffa.
During the first round, murmurs arose that, while Rivlin was the frontrunner, Sheetrit was powering toward second place. Yet the other candidates, former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner and Nobel Prize winner Prof. Dan Shechtman expressed confidence that they had good odds.
When Sheetrit made second place with 31 votes, as opposed to Itzik with 28, Dorner with 13 and Shechtman with only MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid), while Rivlin came in first with 44 votes, lawmakers filed into the cafeteria with facial expressions alternating between confused and excited.
Hatnua's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz sprung to action, lobbying MKs to support Sheetrit. Peretz focused on his former party, Labor.
The murmurs rising from many MKs and their assistants was that now Sheetrit was the sure winner, as the left, plus Hatnua, plus much of Yesh Atid surely wouldn't want to vote for Rivlin who opposes a two-state solution. Plus, all of those in Likud and Yisrael Beytenu MKs who don't like Rivlin would pick Sheetrit.
Rivlin seemed to believe the rumors, putting on a dour face as voting in the second round began. The Likud MKs sitting next to him reported that he accepted defeat.
Then, Sheetrit approached Rivlin, shook his hand and started a long conversation. Sheetrit said he was going to win and Rivlin, pessimistically agreed. Still, the two hugged and agreed to the requests of about a dozen MKs to take selfies and group photos with them.
The long presidential saga ended when Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced the results, and half an hour later MKs gathered with glasses of wine for a toast to Rivlin.
When the President-Elect walked on to the stage, he received a lengthy standing ovation, which was repeated when he took the podium for his victory speech.
"Yechi! Yechi! Yechi! (Long life!)" the MKs cheered at the end, rushing to the stage to shake the winner's hand.
Then, Rivlin headed to the Western Wall to pray, followed by the Mount of Olives, where his parents and his ideological father, former prime minsiter Menachem Begin, are buried.
Ministers and MKs on all sides of the politica spectrum congratulated Rivlin on his victory.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, one of the first to openly pledge support for Rivlin, blessed him with the Priestly Blessing after he won.
"Israel got a nationalist, Zionist president who loves the Land of Israel and the Jewish People, a president that believes in the right of the Jewish People to its land and is not embarassed to say so," Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said. "[The Bayit Yehudi] supported him and we are overjoyed by the results."
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he has "no doubt that [Rivlin] will do the job of president with the necessary responsibility and will be a faithful representative of the Israeli public."
Though Livni supported Sheetrit, she pointed out that the two grew up in the same political camp and they both believe in democracy. Livni added that she is sure Rivlin will bring respect to Israel.
Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri called Rivlin "the right man in the right place, a warm Jew who will bring respect to the State of Israel and the Jewish People."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), whose father Chaim Herzog was president, said: "Long live the 10th president Reuven Rivlin! He will be a president that will unite the people and will protect the lofty status of the presidency."
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), who supported Rivlin even when her party backed Ben-Eliezer, said she is sure the President-Elect will behave responsibly and modestly.
"We shouldn't feel bad about the political upheaval in the presidential race. It was a cleansing process that is part of the fight against corruption. There is an important moral lesson to be learned from the fact that a clean man was elected. Let's hope that from now on, whoever is sullied by corruption will not dare run for public positions," Yacimovich added in a not-very-subtle reference to Ben-Eliezer.
Meretz leaderr Zehava Gal-On congratulated Rivlin, wishing him that he will "bring respect to our country, serve all its citizens and promote values of morality, good citizenship, peace and justice."