My Word: Presidents and present-day politics – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on July 9, 2021

Even by Israeli parliamentary standards, this week was one that ranged between the sublime and the ridiculous between the showtime of the 11th president being sworn in a festive ceremony on Wednesday (July 7) and the showdown of the failure of the so-called Citizenship Law the previous morning.

Isaac Herzog was ushered into office with more pomp and circumstance than I recall for previous presidents, including his late father, Chaim Herzog. The question of whether to call him President Herzog Jr. or President Herzog II seemed in place as he and incoming first lady Michal Herzog were escorted by a cavalcade of mounted police on motorbikes and horses and met by a military guard of honor and the IDF band which played the national anthem, Hatikvah.

Herzog pledged allegiance using the same Bible his father had used before him. The family heirloom, more than 100 years old, is a reminder that the Herzog name also belongs to the countrys first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, after whom the new president is named.

In an only-in-Israel touch, at the end of the ceremony he was hailed by blasts on shofars (rams horns), the Jewish predecessor of a trumpet fanfare.

No matter what his official title, Herzog is likely to continue to be called Bougie, the childhood nickname granted him by his mother, Aura, who was also at the Knesset ceremony to swell and kvell with pride.

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Outgoing-president Reuven Rivlin is so fond of his nickname, Ruvi, that his official correspondence includes it in his signature. Recently replaced prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, did all could to discourage the use of his childhood moniker feeling it detracted from his stature, but nonetheless Bibi stuck to him. It was often used to belittle him particularly in headlines.

This week, Netanyahu did not need a nickname to demean him, the behavior of the opposition he leads did that for him. If the presidential inauguration was a reminder that things can be done differently with respect and style the vote on the so-called Citizenship Law was a jarring sign of just how petty politics can get.

In his inaugural address, Herzog said all the right things. Healing the rifts? Check. Preventing polarization? Check. And, of course, there was the pledge to serve as president of all the countrys citizens.

Rivlin, whose ability to tear up with emotion is rather endearing, was clearly moved by the handover. He left a letter at the Presidents Residence, in which he told Herzog: The truth is I am a little envious of you. In a short time you will discover the tremendous privilege that has fallen to you among the tribes, in the shadow the controversies and rifts, you will find brave people who do not talk about the together, they just live it. Day to day and hour by hour. In their homes, those on the Right and the Left, Jews and Arabs, veterans and new immigrants, religious and traditional, young and old. People of all faiths, sectors and ethnicities. All of them, Israelis. Beautiful, enlightening and generous.

But there was no getting away from reminders of the politicization and polarization. Outside the Knesset, there was a small but noisy demonstration organized by the remnants of the Crime Minister movement. The protest surrounded Herzogs appointment of Naor Ihia as his spokesman even though Ihia had previously worked as Netanyahus media advisor. Some people are not content with hounding the former prime minister even after the start of his trial on charges of corruption; they also want the downfall of anyone who worked with him. The principle of innocent until proven guilty, out; the principle of guilty by association, in.

It takes more than speeches on the need for unity to overcome the current state of affairs.

THE CITIZENSHIP LAW was not the Knessets finest hour. This was not the end of democracy, but nothing marked the end of ideology more than what we witnessed when MKs from parties across the political spectrum voted in contradiction of their own stated policies and their own prior votes on the same law.

The sight of Arab MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List cheering and flashing V for victory signs alongside Likud and Religious Zionist Party MKs when the result of the 59-59 vote was announced was not only out of place in the parliamentary plenum, it was out of place altogether.

No less strange was MK Amichai Chikli, nominally still a member of Bennetts Yamina Party, voting against the legislation it presented, sealing his label as a renegade. At the same time, Meretz and members of Raam (United Arab List) voted in favor of a bill that limits family reunification between Arab-Israelis and their Palestinian spouses.

The legislation would have extended the regulation first instituted in 2003 at the height of the Second Intifada that denies automatic citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israelis. The law, which has been extended on an annual basis, was aimed at preventing Palestinians who entered the country under the framework of family unification from abusing the rights that come with it such as freedom of travel in order to carry out terror attacks. The law was based on painful experience. There have also been children of such couples, Israeli-born citizens, who have been involved in terrorism. In addition, the ordinance tackles, less openly, the demographic question as particularly on the Right there has been a fear that thousands of Palestinians could gain citizenship in this way.

In topsy-turvy thinking, Netanyahu led the Likud in the vote against a law that had previously been passed many times by his own government. This time he claimed it was more important to try to topple the government which bizarrely under the circumstances he accused of being created to advance an anti-Zionist agenda.

The political drama also showed a degree of political inexperience by the coalition, which turned the vote into a vote of confidence in the government, meaning that those opposed to the government would find it hard to support the bill whatever its contents.

Rivlin in his farewell address said: Dont take things for granted because of the simple fact that the State of Israel isnt to be taken for granted. It is a miracle, and miracles must be jealously guarded. It is a miracle, too, because we have turned every challenge into an opportunity. And I also want to say this to you: The Jewish state is not something to be taken for granted. A democratic state is not something to be taken for granted. And there will be no Israel if it is not democratic and Jewish, Jewish and democratic, in the same breath. We will prevail only if we know how to embrace complexity and to reject the simplicity that is always so tempting.

Herzog has made it clear that he will officially move into the Presidents Residence only after Tisha BeAv (this year on July 18), the date marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as it is not customary to move homes during the three-week mourning period leading up to the date. He also noted that the fall of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem is ascribed to baseless hatred.

The new president, like the government that was only recently sworn in, have their work cut out for them. Perhaps the last words should come from the Prayer for the State of Israel, written by the presidents paternal grandfather together with Israeli Nobel laureate for literature S.Y. Agnon, which Rivlin also quoted this week.

Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first manifestation of the approach of our Redemption. Shield it with Your loving-kindness, envelop it in Your peace, and bestow Your light and truth upon its leaders, ministers, and advisers, and grace them with Your good counsel.

Amen.

liat@jpost.com

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