In a thinly veiled jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin said Israel lacked real leaders and that the country was in the grips of a “leadership crisis.”
Rivlin’s remarks followed statements he made to the press earlier in the week, in which he warned the prime minister against risking Israeli ties with the US over the Iran deal. The president, a former Likud party ally of Netanyahu, had criticized the prime minister’s behavior, saying in an interview with Haaretz that “conflicts, even just ones, which in the end can come at the expense of the State of Israel, are things that we must be very cautious about and hold back on personally.”
Speaking to Channel 10 Friday in the latest in a string of interviews with the Israeli press marking a year since he took office, Rivlin again berated Netanyahu, saying, “I wouldn’t have acted in the way the prime minister did in everything associated with our relations with the United States.
“We must immediately find the way to come and say to the US, ‘Despite the difficult differences of opinion between us, there are no closer friends, and no better allies than you to us, and we to you,'” Rivlin stated.
The president went on to say that the Israeli political system lacked leaders of caliber.
“I feel that there’s no real leadership today,” commented Rivlin. “We have many candidates, like in reality television, but we don’t really have a leader.
“The reality is that we only have one person whom the public sees as appropriate to be prime minister, and that’s a shame. I think that if there were more it would be better for everyone, including Netanyahu,” added Rivlin.
Rivlin said candidly that while he and Netanyahu work very closely, “once, the prime minister was also my friend.”
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of people gathered for a Sabbath prayer service outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to show support for Rivlin, after he received intimidation threats online following his sharp criticism of Israeli society and its perceived tolerance for Jewish extremism.
The president greeted the participants at the gathering, and thanked them for their efforts to spread a message of unity.
“We have come together today, from different schools of thought, all together, even if we sometimes have differences of opinion,” Rivlin said at the event.
“Disagreements will always occur between us, but we all approach them wanting the best for each and every one of us, for the whole people. I am excited and moved by this meeting.”
Rivlin has been especially outspoken after two hate-crime attacks toward the end of last week that saw 16-year-old Shira Banki stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade last Thursday by an ultra-Orthodox man, and Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha burned to death in the West Bank last Friday when alleged Jewish terrorists firebombed his family home.
In condemning the attack on the Dawabsha family home in Duma and expressing shame that the suspected perpetrators are Jews, Rivlin raised the ire of right-wingers on social media, who wished for his death and posted photos and videos casting him as a Nazi officer.
The president spoke at an anti-violence rally in Jerusalem last Saturday, following the attacks, and warned that “flames of hatred” were consuming Israel and that Jewish extremists must be met head-on.
In interviews in the Hebrew press Friday, Rivlin said that the online attacks “could be insulting and angering” and that he was facing some “difficult days” with the deluge of hate targeting him, but that “on a personal level, I am not someone who will cancel plans because of personal danger, because I’m really not afraid.”
‘Within this country, we tolerate the targeting of our citizens — those who are not Jews, [those who are] Arabs, Christians or Muslims. This may lead us to a situation where we can lose everything’
During an interview with Channel 2 TV, Rivlin implicitly criticized the silence of senior Israeli leaders in the face of harsh statements and threats against his life. “If they would say that about someone who hates Israel, and I would think it is important to respond, I would get up and say so,” he said. “I would get up and say that while the person may be wrong, he does everything in his power for the State of Israel and for the Israeli people.”
Rivlin’s security team lodged a complaint with police earlier in the week over the death threats. An investigation was also launched over a series of videos showing Rivlin — and Netanyahu — in SS uniforms.
“We are in the middle of a great fracture,” Rivlin told Ynet Friday in reference to the tense public atmosphere following the spate of hate crimes. “Everything’s possible,” he answered, when asked if he felt Israel could witness another political assassination.
“Today there are those who hallucinate that a democratic and Jewish state is only democratic for the Jews,” he warned.
“Terror is terror is terror, and it doesn’t matter what nationality that terror belongs to. There is difficulty in combating the type of terror that is perpetrated by groups of radical Jews. It’s terror from within and it is difficult to bring these perpetrators to justice; we need to create tools in order to combat this style of terrorism,” added Rivlin.
“Within this country, we tolerate the targeting of our citizens — those who are not Jews, [those who are] Arabs, Christians or Muslims. This may lead us to a situation where we can lose everything. We need to deal with this situation where children are killed, or where we allow the blood of others to be spilled, or where you have people who say ‘my religious beliefs command of me to burn, shatter and destroy.’ We must deal with terrorism as terrorism, whether it’s Arab terror or Jewish terror,” Rivlin told Walla News.