By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
A cartoon in Wednesday’s Ha’aretz shows President Reuven Rivlin and his wife at JFK International Airport waiting for a flight back home. He says to her: “Perhaps we should stay here a little longer.”
It’s a comment on the wave of hatred with which the president has been greeted by the political ultra-right in Israel ostensibly because he participated a few days ago in the Ha’aretz sponsored conference in New York at which there was also representation from “Breaking the Silence,” an organization that seeks to expose wrongdoings in the Israel Defense Forces and is the subject of repeated attacks and accusations of being financed by the enemies of the Jewish state.
But the real reasons for the venom against the president probably go much deeper. They may even be inspired by the prime minister whose animosity against Rivlin has been known for a long time. It’s assumed that Netanyahu did his utmost to try to stop Rivlin from being elected president. The fact that during his visit the president of Israel had, by all accounts, a warm meeting in the White House with President Obama – in contrast to the allegedly frostier and more complex encounters between Obama and Netanyahu – must have also infuriated the latter.
Another Ha’aretz cartoon a few days ago showed Rivlin returning triumphantly from America and holding the Hanukiyah used when he kindled lights with Obama in the White House. At the foot of the stairs leading down from the plane stands Netanyahu with his dog ready to attack, a reminder of the Hanukkah party held in the prime minister’s residence a few days earlier at which the dog bit two of the guests and has since been sent to dog-reform school.
It’s not impossible that the anti-Rivlin campaign orchestrated by right-wing groups in Israel is a tribute to their lord and master, the prime minister. It’s certain that, in addition to the “Breaking the Silence” excuse the reactionaries in Israel are fuming at their mouths because of Rivlin’s attempts to reach out to Israel’s Arab citizens with the legitimate argument that he’s the president of all Israelis.
Incidentally, this attitude has also made Rivlin change his anti-Reform stance, reflected in his meeting with the leaders of all the Jewish religious organizations in the United States, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Rivlin is no rabid left-winger. In fact, he vehemently opposes the so-called two-state solution. He believes that all Israel and particularly all Jerusalem, where his family has lived for generations, should be Jewish. His reaching out to Arabs is a way of saying that it’s possible, nay perhaps necessary, for all of them to live as citizens of Israel.
But even those who agree with his politics seem to object to his tactics, because their hatred of the Arabs is deep and ominous, even though they may seek to cover it up with one excuse or another.
That’s why many progressive individuals and organizations have come out strongly in support of Rivlin, outraged that their president should be so vilified. One of his defenders is his predecessor Shimon Peres who in no way shares Rivlin’s politics yet recognizes the implied negation of Israel’s democracy in the attacks.