By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israel’s President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin is saying the same thing that you’ve read more than once here. In an interview to be printed in Friday’s Ha’aretz he’ll explain why he thinks that Prime Minister Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s rant against United States President Barack Obama is very bad news for Israel.
In a trailer in Thursday’s paper, we read that Rivlin has repeatedly told Netanyahu that even if the latter’s objections to the Iran deal are valid, they’ll in the end harm Israel. (My gloss: probably very much more than a bad Iran deal.)
The president stated the obvious when he said that “we need the world even if we don’t agree with it.” He spoke of three basic principles in Israel’s foreign policy: “First, relations with the United States; second, relations with the United States; and the third principle is – relations with the United States.”
The tragedy of contemporary Israel, according to Rivlin in the same report, is that there’s nobody to replace Netanyahu. The president believes that had there been contenders for his job, Netanyahu would have been a much better prime minister. Thereby the president also says something about the poor quality of the opposition both within and outside the coalition.
It’s no secret that Netanyahu wanted to prevent Rivlin from becoming president; he was even prepared to extend Peres’ term of office, at least for a year, but the Knesset overruled him. We now know why: Rivlin has become something of the conscience of the country who speaks truth to the power of Netanyahu. After his courageous speech in the wake of the murder of Shira Banki, the 16-year old girl in the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, Rivlin received death threats and was depicted by his foes as a Nazi.
Students of American-Israel relations have pointed to other times of tension between the two countries. The most dramatic was the confrontation between President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Ben Gurion around the 1956 Suez crisis. The current situation may be comparable.
From Israel’s perspective and contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s contention, the issue doesn’t seem to be only whether the deal with Iran is good or bad. Rivlin echoes the point made by others that even if the deal is bad, to declare a war of words on the United States is bound to harm Israel. This wouldn’t be the first time in history that ostensible patriotism ends up being exceedingly unpatriotic.
The battle lines are along clear ideological lines. Conservatives – whether American Republicans or Israeli Likudniks – oppose the deal. Liberals tend to have a more balanced view with many Israeli defense experts being in favour of it. It’s this that makes it so difficult for us ordinary folk to form an unbiased opinion. It’s even tempting to suspect that the attack on the deal is first and foremost a personal attack on the President of the United States. This in turn prompts the uncomfortable question if it’s because President Obama is a liberal or is it because he’s black.
But whatever conclusions we may come to, it behooves us to take Rivlin’s words to heart. He has become something of the conscience of Israel and the spokesman for those citizens whose views wouldn’t otherwise be heard. For this alone he deserves our respect, our gratitude and our admiration.