The first lady of modesty: 8 things to know for June 5
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The first lady of modesty: 8 things to know for June 5

Nechama Rivlin is remembered for her lack of pretension, and the president is praised for his commitment to her, even if the rest of the political scene remains sour

File: President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama look at the snow-covered garden at the President's Residence in Jerusalem after a snowstorm hit the capital in February 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
File: President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama look at the snow-covered garden at the President's Residence in Jerusalem after a snowstorm hit the capital in February 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

1. Saying goodbye to Nechama: The death of First Lady Nechama Rivlin at age 73 Tuesday is the first non security and non election/coalition-formation story to get major prominence as a news story in weeks.

  • Rivlin, the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, had undergone a lung transplant three months ago, but was taken to a hospital a few weeks later after complications.
  • Dr. Mordechai Kramer cared for Rivlin, who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis for years. He tells Israel Hayom the disease “eats the lung gradually, until it can no longer function.”
  • Ynet notes that the surgery was at first seen as a surprising success, with Reuven Ruvlin joking that “only the air force could beat Nechama,” but she quickly took a turn for the worse.
  • Rivlin’s funeral is set to take place at 6 p.m. after she lies in state for several hours at the Jerusalem Theatre, according to the President’s Office.

2. Queen of quiet: Even the most waspish Israeli pundits have only nice things to say about Rivlin, with the late first lady remembered as the doyenne of modesty, in sharp contrast to some other unnamed public figures.

  • “When you saw [Nechama and Reuven], you could believe that not everything in Israel had been wrecked, that all was not lost. That not everyone in high office was a bully with an endless sense of entitlement, crazy pretentiousness and capricious chutzpah. That there were real people in office and not just unstable emperor types,” writes Ravit Hecht in Haaretz.
  • In Yedioth, author David Grossman remembers Rivlin for insisting on paying for everything, even books she gave visiting leaders as gifts, out of her own pocket.
  • “Nechama was a place of quiet, and this is why people continue to see her and to see in her an example of a different kind of leadership, more clean and more modest,” he tells the tabloid.
  • Several writers note that she had no pretensions about her, despite her somewhat exalted station.
  • “She would do things without pretensions, without making a lot of noise. She always stayed out of the spotlight. Would just go and do the shopping at the shuk or go out for falafel with Rubi,” writes family friend Danny Neuman in Maariv.
  • Even Minister Yuval Steinitz tells Israel Radio that her quiet, modest way was “the antithesis of everything we see today.”

3. Rubi’s role: Yossi Verter notes in Haaretz that the president refused to slow down his schedule while his wife was sick, attempting to care for both her and the country (in his largely ceremonial fashion.)

  • “He made good on all his commitments — every meeting, ceremony, speech, and there were dozens, if not hundreds. The full work schedule was seen to a large degree as a blessing. And if he had any free time he would go immediately to be by her side. Even when she was in a coma and on a ventilator he would speak to her and read her from newspapers that he knew would give her comfort,” he writes. “Their connection was total.”
  • In the same paper, Chemi Shalev writes that the president was given strength by his wife to stand up to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • “Inspired, no doubt, by his partner’s brave endurance of her chronic and debilitating lung disease, Rivlin found his inner steel. He became a one-man resistance movement to Netanyahu’s divisive incitement and anti-democratic impulses without crossing any of the red lines that come with his largely ceremonial role. Empathy with the president’s personal pain is thus accompanied by practical concern that he will be overwhelmed, overpowered and ultimately paralyzed by the grief over his wife’s death.”

4. Not everything is political, though: Ynet notes that among Rivlin’s passions was animals, including helping birds rehabilitate and be rereleased into the wild.

  • That includes one eagle that was injured in Spain and named after the first lady when she released it into the wild several years ago. A short time later, it was captured in Lebanon by locals who thought it was a spy bird, “and was only returned to Israel in a complicated transfer via the UN,” the site reports.
  • Channel 13 news publishes pictures of the bird soaring around.

5. Everybody must get stoned? National Union head Bezalel Smotrich’s call for Israel to be ruled by Torah law has even some in his camp wondering what he is smoking.

  • “There’s a gap between Smotrich’s political skills and his emotions. It seems that sometimes he acts with his gut and not his head such that he ends up making himself fail,” Shlomi Goldberg writes on the right-wing Srugim website.
  • Walla News reports that even Moshe Gafni, a senior politician in the ultra-Orthodox UTJ, said in a speech that “I wouldn’t say that we want a country based on halacha.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord accuses Smotrich of being driven by nothing more than his ego.
  • “Smotrich is afraid of the serious attempts being made in recent days to unify the religious-nationalist camp. The extremism he is espousing, beyond its intended aim of harming Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, is meant to torpedo these unification efforts. Smotrich likes his alliance with far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, but doesn’t like the idea of Naftali Bennett returning to a united religious-nationalist bloc,” he writes.

6. Court re-order: ToI’s Simona Weinglass looks at the cohort of conservative legal scholars who are hoping Smotrich, or someone else, leads major reforms of the Supreme Court (though it’s not clear if that means to the point of stoning people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath).

  • “Who we are deep down does not come from liberalism,” says Yoram Hazony, president of Jerusalem’s Herzl Institute. “We did not come [to this land] to be another left-wing liberal enlightened group of people. We came for something else, as our forefathers knew. We came for a restoration. to renew our days as in days of old.”

7. Unite against the right: On the other side, a lead editorial in Haaretz calls for the left to get together and finish off Netanyahu.

  • “The opportunity that has been created for a possible change in leadership, and to stop the right from moving ahead on extremist plans to annex territory in the West Bank and destroy the judiciary, makes it essential for supporters of peace and democracy to unify their ranks ahead of the September 17 election,” the editorial reads.
  • Iris Leal in the same paper says the center-left should invite Ehud Barak to lead them, since he’s the only one crazy enough to be able to beat Netanyahu. “He’s the only one capable of disturbing Netanyahu’s equanimity and handling the incomprehensible mission of defeating him.”

8. Blooper and white: The Blue and White juggernaut, meanwhile, is coming under attack from Giora Romm, who was the party’s nominee for state comptroller.

  • In comments to Army Radio, Rom compares the party to the hapless soldiers of classic comedy film “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer,” which was essentially Israel’s version of the Keystone Kops.
  • “For two weeks I didn’t have a single meeting with them to talk strategy or tactics. Two days before the vote it still wasn’t clear if anyone was dealing with this, and if so, whom. I turned to all the Blue and White MKs, and everyone said they would get back to me, none did,” he tells the station.
  • In al-Monitor, Yossi Beilin writes that the party, being given a rare do-over, needs to fix an even bigger mistake: refusing to work with the Arab parties.
  • “The combination of a totally justified refusal to join a Netanyahu-led government and the unreasonable boycott of Israel’s Arab citizens prevented Blue and White from having a go at forming Israel’s next government,” he writes. “If it wants another chance, the party must change its attitude toward the Arabs. A willingness to have a dialogue and cooperate with those Arab lawmakers open to engaging is a prerequisite, even if ultimately insufficient, for the party to rise to power.”
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