President Reuven Rivlin is under fire by right-wingers for a Facebook post in which he condemned the killing of Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha in a fatal firebomb attack on Friday in the West Bank and said he felt “shame” that the killers came from “my own people.”
Rivlin has made restoring relations between different segments of Israeli society a key issue of his presidency and has been criticized several times in the past by right-wing constituents. The conciliatory tone of the president, who was a Knesset member of the right-wing Likud for decades, has often earned him the label of “traitor,” “leftist” and “bleeding heart” on the far-right.
But comments on his most recent post regarding the death of Dawabsha escalated to genuine threats.
Among posts praising the president for his humanism, including some in Arabic asking him to leverage the “great respect” he enjoys in Arab Israeli society to help “end the occupation,” some posters said he will “come to an end worse than Ariel Sharon,” who became comatose in 2006 after suffering a stroke while serving as prime minister.
“You bloody loser, your end will be worse than Ariel Sharon’s, you will see. I pray that another ‘Yigal Amir’ will rise to cleanse you and the Arabs from our Jewish country, and so I wish you ill health and any other suffering,” one poster wrote.
Yigal Amir assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
“You sold your soul to the devil,” another message read, adding: “my children saw me taking your picture off the wall [of my house] and asked why. I politely explained that you resigned and are no longer part of the Jewish people. You signal a green light to hurting the Jewish people. You have been disqualified!”
Rivlin, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not shy away from labeling the perpetrators who set fire to the house of the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma as terrorists.
Among the more measured responses to his Facebook post, many felt ill at ease with his phrase “my people have chosen the path of terror,” saying it was a generalizing phrase staining the entire Jewish nation when the perpetrators are a few extremists.
“Our people did not choose terrorism – it is only a few among us who have chosen terrorism, please respect the office you hold,” wrote one poster.
While the comment by Rivlin and similar comments by Netanyahu and even Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett were welcomed by Israeli media for the moderate tone, left-wing politicians were critical.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog wrote on Facebook: “After we have condemned and condemned again, we cannot — again – return to daily events as though nothing happened.”
It is time for action, he wrote, “that meets the threat to Israel’s security posed by Jewish terrorists, who endanger us exactly like their brothers – Islamist terrorists.”
Herzog took aim at the political and security echelons, which he accused of ineffectual measures and of turning a blind eye to Jewish extremists. “If I were prime minister, I would instruct the Shin Bet [domestic security service] to deal with Jewish terrorism like Islamist terrorism,” he wrote. “With determination and not with a wink.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On was harsher, saying that incitement by right-wing politicians laid the ground for crimes like the one perpetrated in Duma on Friday morning.
“The hatred [that led] to the killing has a name,” Gal-on said.
The Meretz leader wrote on her Facebook page that “those responsible also have names; ministers, members of Knesset, municipal rabbis, Lehava [an anti-assimilation organization], Kahanists…The hatred they spread is not general, it’s a hatred toward Arabs — whether they are Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinians living in the territories.”
Rivlin is expected to speak at a rally against incitement in Jerusalem on Saturday evening.
Rivlin also spoke to Arabic media on Friday, in a bid to help calm tensions after the firebombing.
“In the face of a wave of terror against the innocent, the loss of life, and the loss of law and order, the State of Israel and Israeli society must carry some soul-searching. Introspection that will find expression not just in words but in action,” said Rivlin.
He lamented Israel’s failure to crack down on Jewish terrorists, which he said the Jewish state greatly underestimated.
“To my great sorrow, until now it seems we have been lax in our treatment of the phenomena of Jewish terrorism. Perhaps we did not internalize that we are faced with a determined and dangerous, ideological group, which aims to destroy the fragile bridges which we work so tirelessly to build,” he said.