Grapevine, July 30 2023: Rivlin roars

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FORMER PRESIDENT Reuven Rivlin with President Isaac Herzog at the annual memorial ceremony for Chaim Herzog in 2022.   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
FORMER PRESIDENT Reuven Rivlin with President Isaac Herzog at the annual memorial ceremony for Chaim Herzog in 2022.

In a pre-Israel Independence Day interview with The Jerusalem Post in March, former president Reuven Rivlin said that if the judicial reform situation persisted, he would go to the next anti-judicial reform demonstration. He finally made good on that promise in his beloved Jerusalem last Sunday, at a great personal cost.

Several media outlets headlined his participation with more than a suggestion that he had joined the Left. A lifelong Likudnik, and an outspoken champion of democracy, Rivlin, who is also a former speaker of the Knesset, had said in the March interview that he could not live in a country “which is not democratic and which does not respect civil rights.” Something else he said on that occasion was: “We have to once and for all decide on the character of our nation.”

Although he usually believes in compromise, he did not think that it was a good idea with regard to judicial reform “because it will weaken democracy.”

Last week, he made it clear that legitimate criticism is not incitement, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rescue the nation. “There is only one person who can prevent a catastrophe, and that’s Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, as he entreated the prime minister to stop the legislation from being enacted.

Meanwhile, President Isaac Herzog was spelling out a similar message  at Sheba Medical Center where Netanyahu was resting following the implant of a pacemaker.

 FORMER PRESIDENT Shimon Peres with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a memorial service marking the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe at the Jerusalem Theater in 2016. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
FORMER PRESIDENT Shimon Peres with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a memorial service marking the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe at the Jerusalem Theater in 2016. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

As we already know, neither past nor present presidents succeeded in their pleas. It should be remembered that Rivlin and Herzog come from two entirely different political ideologies, but on this issue, they are united.

Israeli democracy in action

The best place to witness Israeli democracy in action last Sunday, according to political analyst Yoav Krakowski, was on the railway link between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Krakowski, who does not live in the capital, but was assigned to work there all day, is an employee of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

When returning home, he had decided to take the train to Tel Aviv. At Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem, he saw Tel Avivians bearing national flags come off the train, while Jerusalemites carrying flags were boarding. When he reached his destination in Tel Aviv the Jerusalemites alighted and the Tel Avivians boarded.

Members of each large group were holding flags aloft, and all were bound for Kaplan Street – the Jerusalemites for Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv and the Tel Avivians for Kaplan Street in Jerusalem. Both streets are named for Eliezer Kaplan who was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the country’s first minister of finance.

Although Kaplan lived through the animosity and betrayal between members of the Irgun and those of the Hagana, he would in all probability be shocked by what is happening in the Israel of 2023.

Political strategists are frequently interviewed on radio and television in relation to major issues of the day, but seldom more so than in recent weeks. Roni Rimon, who is one such well-known strategist, was interviewed last week by Yigal Guetta on Reshet Bet.

It’s no secret that while he was still a politician, Isaac Herzog had his heart set on becoming prime minister. That particular position eluded him, but he had sufficient standing with legislators of all parties to all but guarantee his victory when he ran against Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz in the race for the presidency.

She is undoubtedly a much more passionate and charismatic speaker than he is, but she doesn’t have his experience, his knowledge of what goes on around the world or his extraordinary range of global contacts. 

Guetta suggested that as Herzog will still be relatively young when he finishes his term in five years time, he might have another chance to be prime minister – especially in view of how popular a president he is at home and abroad.

“He’ll have to be elected first,” commented Rimon, who thought it was not such a good idea for Herzog to return to politics. He cited Yitzhak Navon as an example of someone who had made that mistake. Navon was an extremely popular president – a true man of the people. But his popularity waned considerably when he returned to politics.

On the other hand, observed Guetta, Shimon Peres had been an unpopular politician, but an extremely popular president.

Rimon credited Herzog with great intelligence and a pleasant personality, but said that he was lacking in charisma. On the latter score, Rimon said that it’s not something one can acquire. “You’re either born with it, or you’re not.” Netanyahu was born with it – but it seems that lately, charisma is not quite enough.

Apropos Peres, on August 2, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, and on September 6, a memorial service will be held at Mount Herzl to mark the seventh anniversary of his passing. Peres was proof that, contrary to popular wisdom, a leopard can change its spots. A hawk in the early years of his political career, he gradually became a dove, and (together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat) became a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Doctor against judicial reform

During the coronavirus pandemic Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, who heads the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center, was a nightly guest in the nation’s living rooms as she appeared on one television channel after another. In fact, she turned into a television celebrity until the danger period was over.

But last week with the strikes by doctors and nurses, she was back in the limelight. Asked in a radio interview why it was so important for doctors to become involved with judicial reform, she replied that its effect on the medical profession will be the same as that on the judiciary.

Politicians rather than professionals will determine who can be a doctor, and where he or she can serve. Standards will be much lower than they are today, and people who are not properly qualified will become kingpins in the health system.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, says the Shakespearean heroine of the bard’s play Romeo and Juliet. But sometimes it’s the other name that’s important. A case in point is an incident related by The Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Avi Mayer, who while riding in a cab last week, noticed that the driver had a distinctly Arab name and that there was an orange United Hatzalah vest on the back seat.

As a journalist, Mayer naturally asked questions and learned that there are some 130 east Jerusalem Arabs who are volunteers with United Hatzalah. 

The driver told him about a recent emergency call to save a Palestinian baby in distress. A Jewish volunteer from one of the nearby settler communities got there at the same time as Mayer’s taxi driver, and the two worked together to save the baby, happily succeeding in the task. They didn’t care about the baby’s nationality or religion. All that mattered was that she was a human life that needed saving.

United Hatzalah is a form of national service, albeit by another name. UH and Zaka have large representations nationwide of both Arabs (some of whom prefer to be known as Palestinians) and haredim. People in both groups do not join the army, nor would they agree to carry out national service under the Zionist banner. But saving lives as volunteers of United Hatzalah is a different ball game – the rose that smells just as sweet, no matter what it’s called.

Former Labor MK marches against judicial reform in New York

With fewer Israeli flags than seen this week on the Kaplan streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Erel Margalit – the Jerusalem-based venture capitalist and hi-tech and social entrepreneur and former Labor MK – in New York last week, was led a demonstration of some 1,000 Israeli expatriates and friends who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest at Israel’s judicial reform. 

“The battle for Israel’s future is not just the battle of the country of Israel. It is not just the battle of the people of Israel. This is the battle of the entire Jewish people around the world,” said Margalit. The Jewish people are the creative nation of the world. Israel was and will forever be the answer to antisemitism and dictatorship. Israel is the place for the Jewish people to express their freedom and to respect the freedom of others.

Israel is a place that was built on the values of human rights, the rule of law, the independence of the judicial system, and the constitutional limitations of its politicians. Like every Jerusalemite, I know that extremism and zealousness lead to destruction. This time the destruction is happening within us, and we will not let Netanyahu and his government lead us to the third hurban habayit. (destruction of the Temple).” 

It's not certain how much interest German Ambassador Steffen Seibert had in the Holocaust before coming to Israel, but since his arrival, he has met with dozens of German Holocaust survivors. He has also had the pleasure of restoring to many, the German citizenship which was taken from them.

While on a home visit during the summer, Seibert tweeted: “Turns out that next door to where we’re staying in Berlin, the Central Zionist Archive was housed until 1933 (eventually sent to Palestine in 154 boxes). So important that everywhere in Berlin these traces of the lives, suffering, and resilience of German Jews are visible.”