Urging Israelis to vote, Rivlin warns that ‘democracy not a given’

President calls elections a ‘celebration of democracy,’ says Israelis must exercise right to vote ‘as equal citizens’

President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on April 9, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on April 9, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin urged Israelis to vote in Tuesday’s general election, saying that maintaining a democratic system is hard work and “not a given.”

“Elections are a celebration of democracy,” Rivlin told voters in a column carried by Hebrew-language media. “This is the day we exercise our right to determine our fate, as citizens with equal rights and as partners in the political enterprise – the State of Israel.”

“Democracy is not a given, nor is a state’s ability to preserve its democratic character, the independence of its governing institutions, and its uncompromising commitment to civil rights and equality under law,” the president wrote.

“It’s enough to look at our neighbors, and the situation in many other countries, to realize that a person’s right to shape their life, their fate and their future is acquired by hard work.”

Rivlin voted in Jerusalem, and said it was Israeli voters who would choose the next prime minister, “not the president or party heads.”

Throughout an increasingly incendiary election campaign, Rivlin has urged candidates to maintain a respectful level of discourse and made public appeals for national conciliation among Israel’s diverse demographic and ideological camps.

The past several months have seen right-wing parties raise the specter of an Arab-backed left-wing takeover that would place the security of Israelis under threat, and the center-left has warned of the future of Israeli democracy if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing indictments for fraud and bribery, is reelected.

Israelis cast their ballots at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on April 9, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Though filling a largely ceremonial post, the president is responsible for choosing the candidate with the best chance of building a stable coalition government as prime minister. As a result, Rivlin has found himself a target of the divisive campaign rhetoric leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

On Sunday, he denounced what he said was fear-mongering on the campaign trail, saying the various campaigns were “busy making enemies… even when there is no need.”

Last week, Netanyahu told members of his Likud party that the president “is just looking for an excuse” to task Blue and White chief Benny Gantz with forming a government after upcoming elections.

In a recording aired by Channel 12, Netanyahu urged supporters to head to the polls on April 9, warning a large enough seat advantage for Gantz could prevent Likud from forming the next government.

In a rare statement responding to the remarks, Rivlin’s office called them “another despicable attempt to undermine public trust in the president’s decision after the elections.”

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