Rivlin warns infighting is greater threat to Israel than nukes or terrorism

At Knesset, president says internal divisions in which people are tied to rigid political camps could ‘tear flag’

President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein at the opening of the Knesset winter sitting, October 15, 2018. (Knesset)
President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein at the opening of the Knesset winter sitting, October 15, 2018. (Knesset)

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday warned that growing internal Israeli divisions pose “a greater threat than nuclear bombs or terrorism” to the nation’s future.

In a speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session Rivlin warned against becoming overly entrenched in a set of political opinions and appeared to gently push back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s populist rhetoric, which has focused on security as the nation’s largest threat.

“Victory in the battle between us means losing the war of existence,” Rivlin said. “It’s a greater threat than nuclear bombs or terrorism greater than the enemies who seek our destruction. The threat of internal division will always be the greatest threat of all.”

Netanyahu, who spoke after Rivlin, has described terrorism and Iranian nuclear ambitions as existential threats to the state.

Critics have charged that he has sown seeds of discord with rhetoric against Arab Israelis and leftists and has embraced divisive policies such as the nation-state law, which gives Judaism an enhanced standing in the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony awarding outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin, a former Likud hawk whose public views have softened since he became president, has criticized Netanyahu in the past.

He warned a “package deal” mentality in which people are grouped into rigid ideological camps would “tear the flag,” and warned that social media networks that serve as echo chambers were only making the problem worse.

“Tell me your views on the settlements, and I’ll tell what you think you about the Supreme Court, about LGBTs and I’ll even tell you if you use the term infiltrators, refugees or economic migrants,” he said. “Either you’re with us or against us. You fall into line or you are banished like a leper from the camp.”

With elections looming — they will take place in November 2019 at the latest — Rivlin warned against deepening factionalism and said acceptance of heterogeneous views could avoid strife.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Our complex views… bind us together. They are the link between different camps, between different schools, between different beliefs, and between vision and ideology and the firm ground of reality.”

Since becoming president in 2014 Rivlin has often emerged as a voice of moderation. In March he spoke out in defense of state institutions after Netanyahu lashed out at police over his numerous criminal investigations, and defended the free press after the premier attacked its legitimacy. He has praised anti-corruption protests — largely aimed at Netanyahu — as essential for democracy.

At the opening of last year’s winter session, Rivlin defended the judicial system and the media, saying government attempts to undermine them amounted to a “coup” against the pillars of Israeli democracy and lambasted attempts to “weaken the gatekeepers” of that democracy.

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