In rare criticism, Rivlin implies PM took advantage of country to call new vote
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Warns of 'a society where journalists need security guards'

In rare criticism, Rivlin implies PM took advantage of country to call new vote

President says he will do everything he can to prevent a third quick-fire election, expresses ‘surprise’ over Netanyahu’s maneuvering to call September ballot

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin speaks during a Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin speaks during a Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was guilty of using Israel’s lack of a constitution to bend the rules of its fragile democracy to stay in power.

Rivlin leveled the veiled criticism less than two weeks before Israelis are slated to head to the polls in an unprecedented repeat election called after Netanyahu maneuvered to keep Rivlin from giving a rival a chance to form a ruling coalition following the previous election in April.

The president hinted that Netanyahu had taken advantage of the fact that Israel has only a de facto constitution, saying he had been surprised by the move and vowing to do whatever he could to prevent it from happening again. Asked whether he was disappointed that Netanyahu had not returned to him after failing to form a coalition so that somebody else could be given the chance to do so, Rivlin said he was “not disappointed,” but “surprised.”

“We have no constitution. Until the last election there was an unwritten constitution; there were clear rules of play,” he said at Channel 12’s Influencers Conference in Tel Aviv. “If we wanted to change the rules, we would only do so for the next Knesset term. Given that today an unwritten constitution can be ignored, we need to study the law… so that there will be no such surprises and others.”

Netanyahu received the support of a majority of Knesset members following elections in April and was tasked with forming a government, but was unable to do so after failing to create a coalition of at least 61 members of the 120-seat Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony in memory of deceased Israeli presidents and prime ministers at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Instead, coming up one seat short of a majority, Netanyahu pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections rather than let another lawmaker have a shot at assembling a coalition, as the law suggests. It was the first time in Israel’s history that elections failed to result in a government.

Rivlin added in a piercing warning that he “hoped that the danger of the tyranny of a majority” would “not be taken for granted.”

Rivlin also said that he would “do everything he could to prevent the possibility of a third election,” which could potentially be called if a majority coalition again proves beyond reach.

“I think, like all citizens … that we have to make an unrelenting effort that there will be no third elections,” he stressed.

The president has largely refrained from criticizing Netanyahu, as part of unwritten rules governing his largely ceremonial post, but has expressed concerns about campaign rhetoric. After the elections in April he said politicians had “worked overtime in the service of delegitimization, hatred and slurs.”

On Thursday, he appeared to chide Netanyahu for his attacks on the press, after the premier railed against the Channel 12 network’s owners and accused them of carrying out a “terror attack against democracy.”

An election campaign poster for the Likud party featuring journalists (L-R) Raviv Drucker, Guy Peleg, Amnon Abramovich and Ben Caspit, saying, “They will not decide. You will decide” in central Israel, January 20, 2019. (Twitter)

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday that Channel 12 news had decided to assign a security detail to reporter Guy Peleg, who has been singled out by Netanyahu for his reporting on corruption cases against him.

“God forbid that we should live in a society where journalists need personal security guards,” Rivlin said Thursday.

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