Rivlin signals displeasure with efforts to silence opposition

Without directly criticizing government at Rabin commemoration, president condemns attempts to weaken opposition, praises political debate as essential for democracy

President Reuven Rivlin at a commemoration ceremony for murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2016. (Chaim Zach/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin at a commemoration ceremony for murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2016. (Chaim Zach/GPO)

Israel must remain Jewish and democratic and has to preserve political debate and a strong opposition, President Reuven Rivlin said Thursday at a ceremony marking 21 years since the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

In his remarks at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin repeatedly emphasized the importance of Israel’s democratic character, saying that political debate is “the driving force of democracy” and that “a strong opposition is a prerequisite for substantial democracy, and for the public’s confidence in the democratic system.”

While he did not explicitly criticize the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or its policies, Rivlin’s comments on the need to ensure a lively debate came in the wake of a number of cases where government officials have sought to censure left-wing organizations and activists.

Last month, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) called for revoking the Israeli citizenship of the head of B’Tselem for speaking against Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank at the UN Security Council. Last week, Bitan said that he monitors the Facebook pages of journalists who want to impose a “left-wing agenda” through the new-but-not-yet-operating Public Broadcaster that he is working to shut down.

Meanwhile, following a highly critical report of Netanyahu on the influential investigative journalism program “Uvda” by Ilana Dayan, Netanyahu released a scathing rebuke of Dayan in which he called her “a left-wing extremist” who “does not have an iota of professional integrity” and who is “one of the ring-leaders of the orchestrated attacks on…Netanyahu, which seek to bring down the right-wing government.”

President Reuven Rivlin lights candles with children at a commemoration ceremony for murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2016. (Chaim Zach/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin lights candles with children at a commemoration ceremony for murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2016. (Chaim Zach/GPO)

Rivlin added in his remarks that “there is no meaningful democracy… without a strong and kicking opposition, one that is sharp and biting; that knows how to stand on its hind legs; which acts as a healthy ‘threat’ in a competitive way to the government,” signalling the importance of critical debate as a check on the government.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and King Hussein shortly after signing the Israel Jordan Peace Treaty in 1994 (Photo credit: Yaakov Sa'ar/ GPO)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and King Hussein shortly after signing the Israel Jordan Peace Treaty in 1994 (Photo credit: Yaakov Sa’ar/ GPO)

Rabin’s murder must serve as a reminder “that we have no other country beside this great land, and we have no other people beside this great nation,” and the only way to preserve Israel is to ensure its future “as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.

The president strongly praised Rabin’s character in his remarks, describing him as “a warrior, a commander, a leader, [and] a liberator of Jerusalem.”

Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, during a peace rally in Tel Aviv, amid soaring national tensions over peace efforts with the Palestinians. Amir was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the handing over of control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as a part of the Accords.

Israelis attend a rally marking 21 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 5, 2016. (Micha Breakstone, courtesy)
Israelis attend a rally marking 21 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 5, 2016. (Micha Breakstone, courtesy)

Many Israelis blame the incitement against Rabin as leading to his murder, and at a rally at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv last Saturday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said in a speech that “21 years on, the incitement is the same incitement and the leader is the same leader.” He added that “we can no longer let anyone, not a bully nor a leader, continue to incite — not a Knesset member, not a minister and not the prime minister.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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