Israel’s Comrade Rivlin

Alan Johnson (Editor of Fathom) and Lorin Bell-Cross (Assistant Editor of Fathom)

Israel’s new president, Rubi Rivlin, is a right-winger opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. So why is he the darling of Israel’s progressives?

When Shimon Peres’s term as president of Israel came to an end in July, many in Israel were fearful: Who could fill the shoes of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and elder statesman?

Their fears were deepened by the election of Peres’s successor: Reuven (“Rubi”) Rivlin, a veteran right-wing Likud Party parliamentarian, minister of communications under Ariel Sharon, opponent of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and someone opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, Rivlin’s CV did not prevent Haaretz, Israel’s leading left-wing newspaper—and frequent critic of the Israeli government—from endorsing him. “Rivlin has preached the need for cooperation … extended a hand to the Arab factions, in sharp contrast to his colleagues on the right,” noted Haaretz, and he had “opposed the wave of nationalist legislation” in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, and “always maintained independent views, even in the face of strong prime ministers like Ariel Sharon and [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and that is an important trait for a president.”

Haaretz was not alone in that judgment. Former Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, several Arab members of the Knesset (MKs), and left-wing Meretz MK Ilan Gilon also endorsed Rivlin.

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