Reality Check: Rivlin’s unifying message

President Rivlin truly believes in the fact that all citizens of Israel have equal rights, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

President Reuven Rivlin and George Amira
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent well over 30 minutes scaremongering and haranguing the international community at the United Nations last week to no tangible effect, back home President Reuven Rivlin made a brilliant one-minute video that both highlighted the ills afflicting Israeli society and provided some hope for a better future.
For those who missed the Rivlin video, here’s a short recap: 11-year-old Jaffa boy George Amira posted a short video on Facebook in which he silently presented hand-written placards comprising the taunts he received at school from his classmates: “Homo,” “girl,” “faggot” and so on.
In response, Rivlin invited the young boy to the President’s Residence, and the two made a video, using the same format: hand-written placards held up to the camera.
It’s an incredibly moving video, first of all because it assumes absolute equality between an 11-year-old Arab boy from Jaffa and the president of the State of Israel. There are no shots of Rivlin welcoming the boy to the President’s Residence, no aides hovering in the background, no narrator introducing Rivlin with the kind of superlatives Netanyahu demands at public ceremonies from hired lackeys.
Instead, the video simply opens with the two sitting side-by-side on a sofa, Rivlin in an open-collared shirt. Amira kicks it off, holding up a placard with words taken from his earlier video. For the whole video, the two alternate, first Amira holds up a placard, and then Rivlin follows. For example, one placard held up by Amira says “We are exactly” and Rivlin finished the thought: “the same.” Can you imagine our prime minister putting himself on exactly the same level as an Arab boy from Jaffa? It’s also interesting to look at the messages that Rivlin flashes to the screen from his individual placards – they tell a story even without the other half supplied by Amira: “Hostility/racism/people [have to] deal with/here in Israel/have no place in our country/this year we will strive for/empathy/ equality/in our country/thank you.”
This is a strong message, delivered clearly and without any attempt to fudge the issue or offer extraneous excuses for violent, racist behavior against minorities. Unlike our disgrace of a foreign minister, President Rivlin truly believes in the fact that all citizens of Israel have equal rights, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
And this is no one-off on the part of Rivlin.
While the headlines for his eulogy for former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo “Chich” Lahat picked up on his remark that “Chich was the Herod of Tel Aviv,” due to the city’s expansive development under Lahat’s two-decade mayoralty, Rivlin also took care to note that Lahat designed “its unified, bi-national character,” referring to the importance Lahat placed on integrating Arab Jaffa with the Jewish Tel Aviv.
It’s no wonder that Netanyahu fought so hard to prevent Rivlin attaining the presidency, even to the startling extent of seeking to abolish the institution. For while Rivlin is no less right-wing in his political views than Netanyahu – and many would say he is further to the Right in terms of his belief in the Jewish people’s right to live in Judea and Samaria – Rivlin is one of the last people in the Likud who still believe in the superiority of liberal democracy and human dignity over a narrow, nationalistic worldview. In fact, while serving as speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin once said that he would rather accept Palestinians as Israeli citizens than divide Israel and the West Bank in a future two-state peace solution.
Such independent thinking is not what Netanyahu was seeking in a president, and neither is Rivlin’s caustic sense of humor.
In an off-the-cuff remark in the Knesset one time, Rivlin stated that his wife was not involved in his decision making, which Netanyahu took as a reference to the reported behind-the-scenes role played by his wife.
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, Rivlin cannot be relied upon to provide blind support for whatever the prime minister wants, and in Netanyahu’s fear-filled world, this marks him as a potential enemy. Unlike Netanyahu, whose Jewish Diaspora mentality will always see a threat and never an opportunity, Rivlin is an eighth-generation Jerusalemite who is comfortable in living in a multi-cultural Middle East as a proud Jewish Israeli.
At the United Nations last week, Netanyahu failed to offer any hope for the citizens of Israel, or any vision as to how we can achieve a better tomorrow, despite current problems. Unlike our president, who provided the country with a clear call to action to improve on the present, our prime minister continues to cling to a status quo which is becoming more and more untenable as the long years of his do-nothing premiership go by.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.