President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday hailed the relatively high number of Arab Israelis who voted on last week’s Knesset election, and called on future governments to take the concerns of all minorities in society into account.
Addressing foreign diplomats at a reception in his Jerusalem residence, the president reiterated his view that the election outcome calls for a broad unity government, pledging to do whatever he could to help facilitate it.
“These last elections saw a number of important trends. One was the prominent role played by questions of religion and state. Another was the positive trend of increased participation by Israel’s Arab citizens,” he said.
It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of Arab-Israelis cast a ballot on September 17, marking a significant increase from this year’s first Knesset election in April, when the turnout was just below 50%.
The predominantly Arab Joint List won 13 seats in the 22nd Knesset, and 10 of its 13 lawmakers recommended Benny Gantz for prime minister during this week’s consultations with Rivlin. It was the first time in decades lawmakers from the predominantly Arab parties had recommended a candidate from a Zionist party.
“While the elections highlighted the divisions within Israeli society — Jews and Arabs, religious and secular — it is now time to work together on building a shared vision for our common future,” Rivlin said Wednesday. “I therefore believe that the right path for the State of Israel today is to build as broad a governing coalition as possible. This is my opinion. I am trying to do my best.”
He is slated to host Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Wednesday for their second meeting aimed at pushing unity talks.
The incoming government, Rivlin said Wednesday, must remember that for Israel to be “thriving Jewish and democratic state,” it needs to respect and take into account “the needs and concerns of all the sectors that make up Israeli society.”
Netanyahu, whose Likud party came in second with 32 seats, has said he is interested in a national unity government with Gantz’s Blue and White, but has been accused of marginalizing Arabs by warning against a left-wing coalition that relies on the support of the Joint List.
Addressing the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday, which marks the Jewish new year, Rivlin said it was a time for soul-searching and trying to become better people after a year that saw two election cycles.
“On the one hand, these elections demonstrated our vibrant democracy, but on the other, highlighted the division between us. Now we must ask ourselves: How can we learn from the past? How can we heal the divisions of the present? And how can we build a shared future?” he asked.
In his speech, Rivlin also urged the gathered ambassadors to help fight anti-Semitism worldwide.
“Never again, this is our duty. Not the duty of the State of Israel, not the duty of Jewish people. It’s the duty of every one of us.”
He also called on the diplomats to do whatever they could do convince their governments to assist Israel in its effort to bring home two Israeli citizens — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers currently held by Hamas in Gaza, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. “I know that your governments are doing their best to assist, but their duty is to [convince Hamas] to give us the opportunity to bring back these people, because this is a humanitarian appeal.”
The dean of the diplomatic corps, Ukrainian Ambassador Hennadiy Nadolenko, also addressed the event, wishing Israelis a happy new year and a successful coalition building process.