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Stop trying to silence my criticism of Rivlin!

By airing Israel's dirty laundry in public, the president outstrips his largely ceremonial position as a PR man

Since assuming the presidency, Reuven Rivlin has raised the ire of many in Israel with a constant flow of negative statements about the Israeli public. Take these two Rivlin gems quoted by the New Yorker in an Israel-bashing article: “It is time to honestly admit that Israel is sick, and it is our duty to treat this illness,” as well as, “I’m not asking if we’ve forgotten how to be Jewish, but if we’ve forgotten how to be human.”

Many Israelis are deeply upset over Rivlin’s comments and have passionately criticized the president. In response, there has been a concerted effort by the left to stifle any criticism of President Rivlin, declaring it “incitement” and drawing parallels with the assassination of Rabin. The message to the politically right and center politicians is clear: say anything negative about Rivlin and you are inciting to his murder as you did Rabin’s.

But let us be clear.

Rivlin serves in a non-elected, ceremonial position. His activities should be limited to promoting Israel, greeting foreign dignitaries, meeting with the public, and promoting non-political humanitarian causes. In other words, he should act exactly as the royal family in England does.

Instead, on his recent trip to America and throughout the past year, he has made one divisive statement after another, many of which stand in contrast to the positions held by the vast majority of Israelis, and many of which a large percentage of Israelis believe malign the country and its citizens. These are the very citizens who pay 60 million shekels per year to support the office of the presidency.

As an owner of a PR firm, people pay me to promote them and their organizations. Were I to tell an interviewer, “Well client X is a swell guy but he’s a lousy tipper and slurps his soup,” I would rightfully be fired, even if those statements were true.

I understand that Israel is far from a perfect country and I do believe that introspection is valuable. But we have enough people around the world judging and criticizing our every move. There already is a vastly disproportionate response from the world media to every mistake we make and every flaw we reveal. The last thing we need is for the guy who is literally being paid to promote us to pile on us as well, over every (perceived) fault!

In recent days, Rivlin has posted on Facebook that while some may strongly disagree with his positions, we should debate them civilly. I’m sorry, Mr. President, you are wrong. As president, you should not be expressing positions that the majority of the country strongly disagree with. Rather, you should be focusing your efforts on strictly promoting Israel. And when violently anti-Israel blogs like Richard Silverstein’s Tikun Olam and Mondoweiss are thrilled by your comments, you must not be doing your job very well.

We, the citizens for whom he speaks, should have the right — and our elected representatives should have the obligation — to loudly and strongly criticize Rivlin and the statements he is making in our name. Rivlin is entitled to say whatever he wants as a private citizen — and if he feels his message is so important, he should do so as one.

About the Author
Lazer Cohen is the founder of WestRay Communications, an international public relations firm based in Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two daughters.