What is it about President Rivlin that draws so many arrows of criticism? A right-winged president expressing sensitive approach towards “others” is probably an ideological threat to the majority of the public here.
Recently we found out that ideas and ideologies could sometimes be a radioactive radiation. For example — MK Ayman Odeh has cancelled his participation in a meeting with the Jewish Presidents Conference in New-York, as the meeting taking place in the same building that holds the Jewish Agency offices — since, as you know, Zionism is actually a “radiation” in the air, and you could get infected even if you simply participate in a meeting next door.
In addition, Israeli President Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin was harshly criticized when he gave a speech in a conference held by ‘Ha’aretz’ newspaper – in New-York as well – since representatives of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ organization were participating in another panel in the same conference. A radioactive cloud was contaminating this conference, and ‘Breaking the Silence’ members could be contagious, even when they take part in a totally separate activity.
This is not the first time that President Rivlin is under a heavy criticism attack. We all remember his participation in the Kafr Qasim assembly, his request to cancel the performance of Amir Benayun in the Presidential residency, and the things he said following the murder in Duma village.
Therefore, we might ask what it is about President Rivlin that makes him a constant target. The president is known for his pleasant personality, someone who is always speaking at eye level, breaking distance easily and staying “one of us” – as we can tell by pictures showing him flying in economy class and taking the train from NYC to Washington during his business trips. Is that making him a more convenient target for criticism? Would we criticize a distant president less for the same actions?
A conversation I’ve had with Professor Eran Halperin, a political psychologist and Dean of the IDC Psychology School, led me to a different thinking direction. Rather than asking whether President Rivlin is too nice, or perhaps not nice enough, the question should be why President Rivlin is annoying so many people.
The search for the answer is leading me to a very prominent answer – President Rivlin is threatening an identity. He has never declared himself as someone who switched sides or became left-winged, but instead he keeps defining himself as a Zionist, Israel-loving, right-winged person. And from that position, the president is forcing the political side he came from to confront with sayings that this political side may not like to hear.
Another aspect we should look into is the current definition of “Right Wing” in Israel. A research led by Professor Halperin, shows that the public opinion in Israel today, who is mostly right-winged, is both pragmatic as well as impatient towards “others”. Most people are neither interested in an agreement with the Palestinians, nor wishing to evacuate settlements in Judea and Samaria — however it is not based on ideological reasons like hopes for “The greater land of Israel” or the stern position of “we’ll never give up this land”, but rather based on pragmatic reasons such as security, and mistrusting the Palestinians. Staying on the same path is eventually reflected in the lacking of extra sympathy or patience towards others, and it doesn’t matter who “the others” are.
President Rivlin is expressing right-winged opinions, but very opposite the ones mentioned above: he is a very ideological rightist person, believing that the people of Israel have the privilege over the Israeli land, and that Judea and Samaria should be a legitimate part of the Israeli State. On the other hand, the president believes it is necessary to deal with inequality, minorities’ privileges, and acknowledgement of “others” in our community.
President Rivlin is presenting a rightist position which is different than the common right-winged public opinion. This “other right” is raising question marks, it is shaking people, it’s annoying, it’s breaking familiar conventions and it is mostly threatening people’s identity. It could be really frustrating seeing a person, specifically the President, using the same identity frame you belong to, yet molding a different content into it. It could be disturbing when the president says there might be more than one truth.
It could be really disturbing when the President of Israel says that perhaps there is more than one truth (translator’s comment — this line is duplicated in the original text)
We have a tendency to believe that politicians have an elephant skin, and if this is the case, perhaps President Rivlin is not taking all this criticism too hard. But if he does take it personally, perhaps at some point he would rather re-position himself in the center-left side of the political map, at which point he may still cause annoyance and receive similar criticism from those doing it today — but at least now he will be “one of them”, someone from the other party, from the other tribe.
Miri Shalem is the CEO of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. This column is being translated from her weekly column in Makor Rishon.