Too close for comfort

There is no reason to abolish the presidency in Israel, but there are many reasons to be much more careful next time.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

After one president had to resign in disgrace and another was sentenced to a prison, a finance minister was sent to prison and a former prime minister is appealing his conviction and prison term, one would have thought all Knesset members would have been extra careful in casting their vote for Israel’s next president. But many of them were not. Choosing between Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, who by all accounts had been an excellent speaker of the Knesset, a man of principle with a squeaky-clean record, and candidates whose records seemed far from spotless, should have been easy as pie. Rivlin should have won by a landslide, and yet the election turned out to be a cliff-hanger.

What does this say about the judgment of our representatives in the Knesset? Let’s start with those who passed this test with flying colors, thereby saving the State of Israel a major embarrassment: some Arab MKs, some MKs from the far left of thThere is no reason to abolish the presidency in Israel, but there are many reasons to be much more careful next time. e political spectrum and the ultra-Orthodox MKs, who all voted for Rivlin. Many of these have great ideological differences with Rivlin, and others have political scores to settle with Likud, Rivlin’s party. Nevertheless, when it came to choosing a president, they gave priority to the most relevant consideration, the candidate’s qualifications for this high office, the holder of which must represent all Israelis — Jew and Arab, religious and secular, of all political persuasions. They gave Rivlin the margin of victory. Chapeau! You have done the State of Israel a great service.

Heading the sinister plot to defeat Rivlin were the leaders of the “peace camp” in the Knesset : Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On. They tried to cobble together a majority for favor Meir Sheetrit. They were seemingly not bothered by the agreement he had signed with a former housekeeper giving her an astronomical compensation settlement on condition that she keep her mouth shut, or by the fact that he was the only presidential candidate who refused to fully disclose his personal finances. The fact that he backed the “two-state solution” was good enough for them. As far as they were concerned, Israel needs a president who backs the “two-state solution,” and nothing else matters. One cannot resist the temptation to ask whether this abject lack of judgment on the part of Livni, Herzog and Gal-On when it comes to selecting a president for the State of Israel also calls into question their powers of judgment on matters of state such as the “two-state solution” itself. They may be wearing blinders when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well.

But nothing can explain the opposition to Rivlin from members of his own Likud party who voted for Sheetrit. Rivlin was by far the best candidate, and an excellent candidate at that; he was one of their own, a long-time member of Likud and before that, of its Herut predecessor. He should have been their dream candidate. Why would any Likud MK vote for any of the other candidates? Those who did owe their party and the general public an explanation.

As for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he was obviously the one who took the decision that led most MKs from his Yisrael Beiteinu party not to back Rivlin. He has so far not given an explanation, and evidently feels he does not owe the public or anyone else an explanation for this capricious behavior.

And the media, which must have known better than anyone else about the question marks hovering above some of the candidates, even before Benjamin Ben-Eliezer decided to drop out of the race? I do have to compliment Haaretz for choosing Rivlin as one of the two candidates it decided to endorse. However, some of its regular op-ed contributors were given star billing on the editorial page during the campaign when they called on MKs to vote for anyone but Rivlin.

We will now have seven years to digest all the lessons to be learned from the recent presidential election campaign. There is no reason to abolish the presidency in Israel, but there are many reasons to be much more careful next time. This time it was too close for comfort.

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