President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday issued a fresh call for national unity amid an increasingly incendiary election campaign
“These are turbulent days for Israel. Discourse is becoming more extreme and boundaries are becoming blurred,” Rivlin said at a ceremony for IDF soldiers missing in action at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.
“But even in times like this, we must not forget that in the trenches and waiting for battle we lie next to each other,” Rivlin said. “Side by side, left and right, Jews and non-Jews.”
“There, disagreement is silenced,” he said. “That is how your dear ones fought. That, so painfully, is how they fell on behalf of the state.”
In his remarks, Rivlin also said Israel had a moral obligation to secure the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“There is one absolute truth: It’s the duty of our state and our leaders to do everything for our soldiers who never returned from battle. This is a moral obligation of the highest order.”
Rivlin made the remarks days after he appeared to publicly criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Likud party, who have repeatedly accused their center-left rivals of planning to rely on Arab parties in their future government coalition.
At a peace conference held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rivlin on Monday condemned the “entirely unacceptable remarks” about Arabs by some politicians.
“There are no, and there will be no, second-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters,” Rivlin said at the conference marking the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. “We are all equal in the voting booth. Jews and Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel.”
Later on Thursday, Rivlin said he was being attacked for his criticism of Netanyahu by the prime minister’s allies, but said he was not frightened by the efforts to intimidate him.
“These kinds of attacks will not deter me,” he said at conference for pre-military academy students. “I will follow the language and spirit of the law throughout this election campaign like I have done in previous years.”
Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonizing Arab Israelis, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April elections.
On Sunday, Netanyahu drew criticism for saying that Israel “was not a state of all its citizens” in a reference to the country’s Arab population.
Netanyahu was engaging in a social media argument with model and TV host Rotem Sela, after she criticized Likud’s rhetoric on Arabs.
“When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal,” Sela wrote on Instagram.
Though he said all Israeli citizens, including Arabs, have equal rights under the law, Netanyahu in his response referred to a deeply controversial piece of legislation passed last year declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” he wrote in a response to Sela’s comments. “According to the nation-state basic law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu was condemned in Israel and abroad for the remark, with critics accusing him of racism and incitement against the country’s Arab minority.