Mutual Respect Charter signed by 70 MKs encourages respect in Knesset

Rivlin thanked the delegation for its support for mutual respect, for which he has been an outspoken advocate.

Knesset meeting to pass bills to create coalition government on May 6, 2020 (photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN)
Knesset meeting to pass bills to create coalition government on May 6, 2020
(photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN)
We wholeheartedly support the “Mutual Respect Charter” signed by some 70 members of Knesset and presented to President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday.
The charter calls on all 120 MKs, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, to espouse the values of respect, partnership, mutual responsibility, tolerance and meaningful discourse, and to set a personal example to the public in order to fight division and hatred.
It was initiated by Knesset Deputy Speaker Moshe Arbel (Shas), who authored it, together with Minister Michael Biton (Blue and White). They were joined at the President’s Residence by signatories Ofir Sofer (Yamina), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz), Osama Saadi (Joint Arab List), Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (Yesh Atid) and Eliyahu Baruchi (United Torah Judaism).
“The aim of the ‘Mutual Respect Charter’ is not, heaven forbid, to stop disagreement which is so vital for democracy, and not, heaven forbid, to stop the range of views or even of criticism,” Arbel declared. “Its aim, as is written, is to protect mutual respect despite weighty disagreements. Its objective is to allow us to fight for our principles in a way that does not create hatred or division.”
In the spirit of the pact, Sofer apologized for his rude verbal assault on Economy Minister Amir Peretz (Labor) last week. “Unity and respectful discourse must come first and foremost from elected officials. We can disagree on any issue, from a place of mutual respect,” Sofer said. “A week ago, I felt I attacked Minister Amir Peretz in a disrespectful way in the Knesset and I immediately apologized.”
Baruchi gave an example from the Talmud to highlight the importance of mutual respect. “When studying Gemara, we spend a lot of time learning about things that were never adopted as legal rulings. Why? Because it is clear that in order to understand properly the accepted view, we must also learn the counterargument,” Baruchi said. “As a member of the Knesset I have been disappointed in myself, more than once, when I was unable to understand the rationale of the other side. When that does not happen, it is clear to me that I have not learned the issue fully enough. When it does happen, even if I remain absolutely opposed to my colleagues, it remains within the boundaries of discourse.”
Rivlin thanked the delegation for its support for mutual respect, for which he has been an outspoken advocate, noting that over the millennia the Jewish people has lived with disputes between the houses of Hillel and Shammai, disputes when the Zionist movement emerged and disputes over the very principles on which the State of Israel was founded.
“These are difficult days in Israel,” he said. “Disagreement has become a political tool in the hands of the parties to get votes. It is totally contrary to the wonderful charter you are proposing as a statement by the Knesset. Whatever disagreement there is in the Knesset, it must be a place of respect. When respect is lacking, we are in a clear social and political crisis. Knesset member Arbel, the charter for which you have secured the signatures of 70 MKs is a sacred text, and woe be us if it is not implemented.”
Politicians in other countries, too, have taken similar steps toward a more civil discourse. In the US, for example, the Democratic and Republican candidates for Utah governor – Chris Peterson and Spencer Cox – released a series of joint public service announcements on Tuesday to promote civility, a peaceful transition of power ahead of the November 3 vote amid what has become an acrimonious political environment, and the acceptance of election results.
Using the hashtag #standunited, the two men encourage voters to understand that people can disagree without hate and work together despite differences in opinion.
“We will fully support the results of the presidential election,” Peterson says in one ad. “We ask that you stand with us,” Cox adds.
Back in Israel, Arbel stressed that the Mutual Respect Charter “is not just a piece of paper but a binding declaration of intent.” We urge all politicians – from the top down and across the political spectrum – to take it seriously. The charter could very well mark a turning point in the history of civil discourse in Israel. For the country’s sake, we certainly hope so.