Rivlin concerned over new elections’ potential to increase Jewish-Arab acrimony

President says most recent vote saw ‘negative records’ in attacks on Arab parties as well as Arab voter turnout

President Reuven Rivlin (right) with an Arab leader at an Iftar dinner, May 28, 2019 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (right) with an Arab leader at an Iftar dinner, May 28, 2019 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday evening expressed concern over the potential of a new election to increase rancor towards the Arab public, saying the most recent vote had seen “negative records” for Jewish-Arab relations.

Hosting Arab leaders for the traditional Iftar event — the meal at the end of the daily Ramadan fast — at the President’s Residence, Rivlin said: “This [past] election campaign will be remembered, unfortunately, for two negative records concerning the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel, our shared home.”

The first, he said, was “the harsh attacks on the political legitimacy of the Arab parties and Arab elected officials… Throughout the entire election campaign, I declared at every opportunity in a loud and clear voice that the fury against Israel’s Arab citizens is a danger to Israeli society and to the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — democratic and Jewish in one breath.

“If, unfortunately, we are facing another election, we had better remember it, as far as the relationship between Jews and Arabs is concerned,” he said.

He said the second, “which worries me even more,” was the low turnout of Arab voters. “The choice of so many of the Arab public not to vote is a privilege that we who support Israeli democracy simply cannot afford. We have a long and difficult path to travel, but quitting the game is not the answer. Mainly, because this is not a game — it is our life, all of our lives.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party were criticized throughout the election campaign for anti-Arab rhetoric, often claiming his rivals were planning to ally with Arab parties in a bid to oust him from power,

Arab lawmakers have often been portrayed by the right as disloyal to the country and even as terrorists — most recently in Saturday’s opposition rally.

The president told those assembled: I know that sometimes you feel lonely in the struggle, but please remember that there are many, many people who are praying for your success and more and more are joining you each year. Ultimately, we will succeed because we were destined to live together.”

Netanyahu and Rivlin have long been reported to be at loggerheads, and the president has often criticized divisive rhetoric in implicit references to the premier.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on April 17, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The prospect of new elections has become a real possibility in recent days as Netanyahu has failed to form a coalition, largely due to Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman’s refusal to join under the current terms.

Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.

The Knesset plenum on Monday night moved one step closer towards dissolving the 21st Knesset, with MKs approving in its first reading a bill to disband the legislature.

The bill must now be passed in its second and third readings for new elections to be called. The prospective date for the new national poll is September 17, though that date could yet change.

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