In a talk Tuesday with a solidarity delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations at the Knesset, president-elect Reuven Rivlin outlined his vision for his presidency vis-a-vis Israel and the Diaspora.
Explaining that the presidency is more of a symbolic than politically influential role, Rivlin said he views his position as “the one to create dialogue” and “bridge gaps.”
Currently, said Rivlin, the various factions inside the country express their opinions and present ideas, but are not ready to listen to each other. Rivlin said he intends to “bridge the gap between citizens of Israel — Jews and Arabs, rich and poor.”
“The Jewish democratic state is something that is difficult to explain,” said Rivlin. “Arab Israelis must take into consideration that we [Jews] have returned home, but one [who is not Jewish] who was born to this land should also consider this land his home… I cannot understand those who talk of banishing Arab citizens from Israel.”
The president, said Rivlin, should push for dialogue leading to solutions for “problems that after 65 years we still need to solve.” Among these long-term issues, Rivlin called for a constitution enumerating citizens’ rights and an end to “the war between church and state.”
“This culture war is very dangerous for our mutual life together. You are here from all [Jewish religious] movements… We are one people, we are one family, not one tribe. You can be forced into a tribe; in a family you get over your differences,” said Rivlin.
Rivlin praised the solidarity mission’s presence in Israel during Operation Protective Edge and extended to the members an open invitation as president, saying, “We will meet many times… We [Israelis] are strong because we are forced to be strong, but we need a lot of help from everyone to maintain a Jewish democratic state.”
In sharing his family’s personal immigration story, Rivlin repeatedly returned to the theme of the unique nature of Israel as the world’s sole Jewish state.
Rivlin told the group that his ancestors, students of the Vilna Gaon, immigrated to Jerusalem in 1809 in deference to their teacher’s desire for a strong Jewish presence there during a year that on the Hebrew calendar mystically signified the sounding of the shofar (ritual ram’s horn) for the arrival of the messiah.
“By the way, he still hasn’t come, and we’re still going to bed with our shoes on to be the first to greet him. Of course, we must change the sheets every morning,” joked Rivlin.
“This is our only homeland,” Rivlin, turning serious, told the group from North America. “We have no other land than the promised land.”