Apparently it’s presidential election season in the Middle East, as Israel is the latest country in the region to elect a president. But unlike Egypt and Syria, which held symbolic elections for a serious post, Israel held a serious election for a largely symbolic post.
In the end, Reuven Rivlin emerged victorious from among the six original candidates and two rounds of voting to be voted Israel’s 10th president. Though he didn’t win with the same margin as Sissi (96.9%) or Assad (88.7%), the Hebrew press goes crazy over the election anyway.
Yedioth Ahronoth has 20 pages of coverage, Israel Hayom checks in with 19, and normally stingy Haaretz gives 8 pages to the election. Most of the coverage falls into three categories: who is Rivlin, the Likud divide, and the election day itself.
Who is Reuven Rivlin?
Israel Hayom gives the most straightforward biography of Rivlin, detailing each step of his life and concluding that the one word most associated with Rivlin is “Jerusalem.” Rivlin’s family has been in Jerusalem for generations and Rivlin started his political career on the Jerusalem city council, and also ran the city’s soccer team Beitar Jerusalem. Aside from all the Jerusalem connections, the paper notes that when Rivlin was about 30 he became a vegetarian, making him Israel’s first vegetarian president.
Yedioth Ahronoth also provides a bio of the next president and touches on all his Israeli bona fides of IDF, education, and family. He served as an intelligence officer in the army, has a law degree from Hebrew University, and is the father of four kids and grandfather to nine. The paper also calls Rivlin’s time in the Knesset successful as he worked with members of all parties and is well respected.
In its biographical article on Rivlin, Haaretz writes that Rivlin has good relations around the Knesset, including with Israeli Arab members. The paper also expects that Rivlin will be an active president who will “pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs [in Hebron] while also taking part in a ceremony remembering the massacre at Kfar Kassem.”
Likud vs. Likud
Rivlin’s biography only takes up a tiny amount of space in the flood of coverage about the president-elect, and most of the coverage is in the form of op-eds.
In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes about the stormy relationship between Netanyahu and Rivlin but notes that Rivlin probably won’t try to get back at Netanyahu. This isn’t out of any respect for Netanyahu, but rather out of respect for the institution of the presidency. But the divide in Likud and Netanyahu’s dislike for Rivlin remained, and in the end Rivlin’s victory was assured not by Likud but opposition MKs who voted from him (Rivlin got only 13 out of a possible 20 Likud votes).
Over in Israel Hayom, Mati Tuchfeld writes that there is both relief and stress right now for the Likud. It’s no secret that Netanyahu and Rivlin don’t get along, but on the other hand if Rivlin had lost the election it would have looked worse for Likud. Tochfeld writes that the stress over the presidential election showed the stress fractures in the coalition as well. He theorizes that there could have been a situation where the election led to the downfall of the government (though he is hazy on details). But while Netanyahu didn’t consider this, senior Likud members did and intervened and saved Netanyahu (and the coalition) from being humiliated.
In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit writes about what he hopes to see Rivlin do as president: close social gaps, help new immigrants, help potential converts who loathe the rabbinate, and raise the prestige of Jerusalem. Rivlin might have made life difficult in the past for Netanyahu, but Margalit writes that both are adults and adults know how to leave disputes in the past and “refrain from creating problems in the future, unless it’s about truly important matters.”
The election itself
Yedioth details how the election itself went down on Tuesday, including how after the first round of voting pundits expected Rivlin to lose. In the first round, Rivlin got 44 votes and Meir Sheetrit got a surprising 31, which propelled him into the second round. In the second round many thought that Sheetrit had the momentum and would take advantage of the divide in the Likud to win. However, some maneuvering in the Rivlin’s camp got Shas and other opposition members to change their votes, giving Rivlin the win.
Both Israel Hayom and Yedioth write about a lighter side of the election: the selfie trend has officially reached the Knesset. Between rounds, members of all parties seemed to be gathering around their cellphones and snapping selfies. Rivlin was at the center of a lot of the pictures, but the other candidates got in on it as well. Perhaps this is the real reason for the hostility between Netanyahu and Rivlin.