Shocked by US Capitol attack, Rivlin urges Israelis to protect their democracy

President calls on population to abide by new lockdown due to begin Friday 12:01 a.m., says it’s needed so we don’t ‘kill each other’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

President Reuven Rivlin, January 6, 2021  (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin, January 6, 2021 (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday called on Israelis to not fall victim to the types of internal divisions that led to the attack on the US Capitol building the day before.

“Over recent years, with all of the election campaigns that we have had, and the painful questions that have been on the Israeli public agenda, the distance between us has grown perhaps greater than ever. But we must ensure that even if the gaps are deep, our democracy will protect us as a people, as a society and as a state,” he said.

“The pictures of the disturbances from Capitol Hill are shocking. They remind us all that democracy, even when it is strong and deeply rooted, is not to be taken for granted,” Rivlin said.

On Wednesday, a mob of loyalists to US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in Washington, DC, interrupting the effort by Congress to certify the President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory in November. Such a process has generally been a perfunctory matter, but due to Trump’s repeated, unsupported claims of voter fraud, the certification became a heated issue, drawing thousands of protesters.

Over the course of Wednesday afternoon and evening, some supporters of the president occupied both chambers of Congress, vandalizing the building, looting property from the Capitol and congresspeople’s offices and clashing with police officers.

Washington police chief Robert Contee said 52 people were arrested Wednesday, 26 of them on the grounds of the Capitol, for curfew violations, unlawful entry and weapons charges. He also said two pipe bombs had been discovered near the Capitol, one at Democratic Party offices and the other at Republican Party offices. One woman died.

After several hours, Capitol Police officers cleared the building, allowing Congress to certify the results of the election.

In his statement, Rivlin congratulated Biden on the certification of his victory.

“I am sure that President-elect Biden will continue to strengthen the relations between us and the United States of America, our closest friend and the greatest democracy in the world,” Rivlin said.

The president’s comments came hours before Israel was due to enter a national lockdown in light of a growing coronavirus outbreak.

“I call on all public leaders — in all towns, from all segments of society, political leaders and spiritual leaders, mayors, heads of civil society organizations — please do your duty and stop the threat of anarchy. The lockdown, with all its restrictions as decided by the government, applies to us all,” he said.

“We are going into lockdown so as not to kill each other!” Rivlin warned.

The lockdown is scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday, at which time existing restrictions will be tightened and enforced, with schools and nonessential businesses closed down for two weeks, in accordance with a vote by cabinet ministers on Tuesday night.

Checkpoints will be set up on major highways and within towns and cities, with thousands of police officers operating them. Police will also work to ensure compliance with existing rules that limit Israelis from venturing beyond a kilometer from their homes, except for essential reasons, which have largely gone ignored and under-enforced.

Border Police enforce coronavirus lockdown rules in downtown Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

To encourage Israelis to embrace the lockdown, Rivlin released a Hebrew-language video, explaining the need for the new restrictions.

“We are going into lockdown because the coronavirus wards and the hospital ICUs are close to overload. We are going into lockdown to protect our children. We, all of us and without exceptions, must follow its rules. All segments of society: Jews and Arabs, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox,” he said.

Rivlin warned that failing to do so amounted to “anarchy,” which the country had to avoid.

“Disobeying the law, particularly the coronavirus regulations — and even more so, calling on others to disobey — is not only undermining our joint efforts to limit the spread of the disease, it is a tragedy that will remain with us, leading — heaven forbid — to deepening the schisms that have opened between the different groups in our society,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, segments of the country’s ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations have been found to flout the coronavirus restrictions, leading to harsh criticisms of those communities and their leaders.

Rivlin hailed the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine — over 1.5 million Israelis have been inoculated as of Thursday — as a way for the country to return to normalcy.

“There will be better days. We have gone through bad times in the past and overcome them. The effect of the vaccine is close at hand, and we will return to normality. Until then, we must be patient and disciplined, and do everything we can to minimize infection. God bless you all, my dear ones,” Rivlin said.

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