As president of Israel and as one of the country’s best-known doves, Shimon Peres didn’t necessarily represent the Israeli majority when it came to security issues, at least not in recent years. But thanks to his stature as an elder statesman, his comfort in world capitals, and his sensitivity to his audiences abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish — he brought honor to the largely ceremonial role.
Peres’s newly elected successor, Reuven Rivlin, is similarly poised outside the Israeli mainstream, this time to the right. A disciple of Jabotinsky, Rivlin opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports giving Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians. Although most Israelis are increasingly skeptical of the moribund peace process, they are also wary of a “one-state” solution, whether it is conceived by the Left or the Right.
And yet, like Peres, the Jerusalem-born Rivlin is a stalwart in his party, and has had a front-row seat to his country’s history almost since its founding. He is considered gentlemanly and incorruptible, and has a track record of politesse toward Israel’s minority parties. He has described the role of president as “a guide and social shock absorber at difficult times, and someone who can bring understanding so we can continue to live together, in one Israeli experience, even while we argue.”
And yet many Diaspora Jews are still looking for assurances that Rivlin understands and appreciates Jewish diversity outside of Israel. Reform and Conservative leaders were especially dismayed after he referred to Reform Judaism, in 1989, as “idol worship,” and, in 2007, would not say whether he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title if he were elected president. Aware of the controversy, Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post this month, “I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another…. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”
We welcome those comments. World Jewry looks to Israel’s presidents not as representatives of one political or ideological stream or another, but as advocates for its place among the nations and as embodiments of Israeli and Jewish values. Those values include a quest for normalcy, respect for diversity, and devotion to the security and well-being of the Jewish people. Jews everywhere join Peres in welcoming Rivlin as a “good person” who will “fulfill this role excellently.”