Rivlin awarded prestigious Washington Institute Scholar-Statesman Medal

The award celebrates outstanding leadership that exemplifies advancing Middle East peace through sound scholarship and a discerning knowledge of history.

President Reuven Rivlin was awarded the Washington Institute Scholar-Statesman Medal (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin was awarded the Washington Institute Scholar-Statesman Medal
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin was officially awarded the coveted Scholar-Statesman Medal from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Thursday.
The award, which celebrates outstanding leadership that exemplifies advancing Middle East peace through sound scholarship and a discerning knowledge of history, is one of the most prestigious honors awarded to those fighting to advance peace in the region.
These values are something Rivlin exemplifies. The institute's executive director Robert Satloff said it was a privilege to honor Rivlin's "commitment to integrity, commitment to tolerance, to unity, and to hope."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the award was presented to Rivlin over Zoom rather than at the annual dinner, with the president’s speech being broadcast by the Washington Institute.
Addressing the audience, Rivlin discussed his hopes to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of mutual trust and respect, the recent changes in the region and the enduring resilience of Israeli democracy.
On the latter point, he discussed the place democracy and its values have in Jewish tradition.
“Democracy is democracy. When we talk about a Jewish democracy, the Talmud’s rabbis and philosophers had a lot of differences of opinion to say the least, and the decision was the decision of the majority,” he explained.
“Israel is a Jewish democratic state. Not less Jewish, and not less of a democracy. Even 120 members of the Knesset, the whole Knesset, cannot change the nature of Israel as a Jewish state, and cannot change the nature of Israel as a democracy.”
REGARDING THE new developments in the region, Rivlin spoke positively about the recent normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, and discussed how important it is to build trust with the Palestinians, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Without confidence, we cannot get to any kind of agreements and understanding, to bring to an end the tragedy that we are living in, and sign a real peace,” he explained.
He noted that “I spoke to the president of the Palestinian people, President [Mahmoud] Abbas, and told him” that “there are no borders” when something like the coronavirus threatens everyone or “somebody out there decides that he can endanger all of us.”
“We have to find a way in order to understand [each other]: we are not doomed to live together; we are destined to live together," Rivlin said.
"We have had peace with the Egyptians for more than 40 years, we have had peace with the Jordanians for the last 27 years – we have peace with the king, with the president, with the administrations. Sometimes we have peace with the armies when we need to uphold the security of the whole region, he said."
"But we don’t have peace between the peoples – and as long as we don’t have peace between the people, it is really something that cannot bring us to real peace, to real understanding.”
It is the building of mutual trust, respect and confidence that is absolutely essential to bringing peace, Rivlin said, explaining this is something he had tried to convey to US President Donald Trump, who notably tried solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his "Deal of the Century" plan.
"[Trump] understood, but we have no one who understands it in the region," he added.
Rivlin also discussed the Israeli-Arab sector, and his hopes to have them act as a "bridge" between Israel and its neighbors in the Arab world.
"We have no war whatsoever with Islam. Never ever have we had a war with Islam. We had war, unfortunately, with the Arab states who rejected the very idea of creating a Jewish state," the president explained.
"But I really believe that the Israeli Arabs will go to Abu Dhabi, and they will be asked where they are from, and they will say 'we are Israelis' – then we will have found the right way to create real confidence between everyone in the region.”
HE ALSO discussed his recent discussion with President-elect Joe Biden, and of the deep ties between Israel and the US, which go beyond mere politics.
“We are not Republicans and we are not Democrats – we know we have a friend in the American people – bipartisan," Rivlin said. "We know that the friendship between the Americans and the Israelis goes beyond politics. Everyone who will be elected or was elected to become the president, we would like him to hear us, because we know that first of all he not only respects us because of our values, and our way of thinking and our behavior, but also because we know we have a real strategic partnership in many fields.”
Prior winners of the award include US president Bill Clinton, secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, UK prime minister Tony Blair and Jordan's King Abdullah II, who sent a video message to Rivlin congratulating him.
Also congratulating Rivlin was former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, one of the institute's representatives in Israel, who presented Rivlin the medal in person, alongside institute board of trustees member Robin Neustein.
“President Rivlin, you are a man of ideas, and a man of the people," Eisenkot said. "A scholar whose knowledge of where your people have come from guides you in asserting a path for their future; a statesman whose honesty and integrity are above reproach.
"At a time of anger, division and intolerance, you are a powerful voice of tolerance, unity and hope.”