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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin – Israel’s 10th President

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Key points

  • Reuven Rivlin has succeeded Shimon Peres as President of Israel; he was elected in June 2014 after he secured the support of 63 MKs after 2 rounds of voting, held by a secret ballot of Israel’s 120 Members of Knesset.
  • The presidency is a largely ceremonial and Rivlin will serve a seven year term.
  • Rivlin is a veteran Likud politician considered a staunch defender of Israeli democracy and the independence of the Knesset. Although he personally opposes the two-state solution, he has said he would not intervene in the decisions of Israel’s elected politicians.

Rivlin’s background

  • Rivlin was born on 9 September 1939 in Jerusalem, then part of British Mandatory Palestine.
  • Rivlin qualified and worked as a lawyer before entering politics.
  • In 1978 he was elected to the Jerusalem city council, a position he held until 1988.
  • Between 1981 and 1986 he served as a member of the executive council of Israel’s national airline El-Al.
  • Rivlin was elected to the Knesset with the Likud in 1988. He lost his seat in 1992 but regained it in 1996.
  • He served as Minister of Communications in the government of Ariel Sharon (2001-2003).
  • He was speaker of the Knesset from 2003-2006 and 2009-2013.
  • In 2007 he stood against Shimon Peres in the Israeli Presidential election.
  • Rivlin is an avid supporter of Beitar Jerusalem FC, having served as a legal advisor to and Chairman of the Beitar Jerusalem Sports Association. In 2013 he strongly condemned widely reported racist outbursts by sections of Beitar Jerusalem’s supporters.
  • As Speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin developed a reputation as a staunch supporter of democracy and civil liberties; many of his decisions angered his allies on the right. In 2010 he made efforts to prevent the removal of Haneen Zoabi MK’s parliamentary privileges, over her participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and he has a friendship with Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi, despite their diverging views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Likely presidential stance

  • Rivlin was a veteran Likud MK and considered a staunch defender of Israeli democracy and the independence of the Knesset; a fact which led him to fall out with Prime Minister Netanyahu during the last Knesset.
  • Although he personally opposes the two-state solution, he has said he would not intervene in the decisions of Israel’s elected politicians. In an interview with Times of Israel  he emphasised the importance of the neutrality of the president, saying, “It’s not for the president to determine the arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Arab world … but to be the bridge between opinions, and to facilitate dialogue and understanding.” In an article in NRG, he described the politicisation of the presidency as a threat to the institution. He wrote that, “On a constitutional level, the presidency is symbolic, rather than a source of authority.” He added that, “The duty (and right) of the elected government to govern obliges the President to give appropriate support to government’s decisions”, even though the President may personally disagree with these decisions.
  • Rivlin is outspoken in support of better relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel. In a joint op-ed with Shimon Peres, written in response to the murders of the three Israeli teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer Eyal Yifrah and Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, he called for an end to violence and hate on both sides. They wrote: “In the State of Israel there is no difference between blood and blood.  The democratic State of Israel sanctifies the moral right to life and the equal right of all human beings to be different.  The murderer of a young man or woman, a Jew or an Arab, is an act that cannot be accepted.” He added that, “the choice is in our hands: To give in to the destructive worldview posed to us by the racists and the extremists, or to fight it unconditionally; to give in to wild and vicious Muslim or Jewish terrorism – or to put an end to it by all means possible.” The op-ed went on to say that, “we must understand that we have no other path but living together.  The bloodshed will stop only when we all understand that it is not our unhappy fate to live together, but rather our destiny to live together.  Any stammering or compromise on this matter will lead to a deterioration that could inflict disaster, not only on our life together, but on life itself.”