Op-Ed: Best of Luck to Rivlin

“It is essential that Bibi and Buji unite forces with President Rivlin in the name of pluralism and democracy.”

On the eve of the election a group of prominent Americans met with President Reuven Rivlin in his office. He tried to avoid politics, but in response to one of the more sophisticated questions he set his mouth free. “Sometimes you need to provide a ladder so that leaders can get down from the trees they have climbed,” he said. Everybody understood that his main effort would be to bring Bibi Netanyahu and Buji Herzog down to earth to unify forces.
This is quite a challenge. Jews are always better at disagreeing. As the cliché goes: two Jews, three opinions. Ten will have 15. Provocative thinking sometimes makes life more interesting, but when it comes to our neighborhood, to our challenged existence, it can be counterproductive.

This is not exclusively an Israeli pattern. It is in the Jewish DNA. Take, for example, the ugly campaign against Alisa Doctoroff in New York. No doubt she is one of the most dedicated members of the New York community, fiercely committed to the Jewish future and to Israel. I don’t know the people behind the smear campaign, but I bet that they believe they share most of the same Jewish values. Not all of them, because some basic human values appear to be beyond them.

Doctoroff’s sin was that her good deeds basket contains not only enhancing Jewish education, strengthening the New York community, supporting key organizations committed to Israel and its future such as AIPAC, improving the security and safety of Israeli kids living on the border with Gaza, but also ensuring human rights for Israel’s minorities. Her “crime” was to include in this basket the New Israel Fund. Not that I’m the hugest fan of the NIF, which sometimes ignores some of our existential challenges.
That said, its basket includes values that should be rooted in our unified efforts as a community based on Jewish morals and as a state aspiring to be Jewish and democratic – a light unto the nations.

Following the election results, President Rivlin should redouble his efforts. Since taking office he has shown that he feels deep in his heart, along with his love for Jerusalem and Eretz Israel, a great respect for human rights, liberalism and pluralism.
I have known him forever, since he dreamed of becoming Jerusalem’s mayor, and he has always promoted the same compassionate ideals. The real challenge is staring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the face. In my previous life as a journalist, I observed and analyzed many Israeli elections – beginning in 1974 in the wake of the Yom Kippur War.

Certainly, this election cycle was one of the ugliest I have witnessed. Netanyahu was cornered, almost across the board. Some of the criticism leveled at him was earned honestly, but many of his achievements were ignored entirely. He reacted to the attacks against him by lashing out like a wounded lion. Gulfs within the country may be at their widest ever. They extend through the Jewish people worldwide and threaten our common goals and aspirations.

The expected coalition of his natural partners may even deepen the divides. The ultraOrthodox– United Torah Judaism and Shas – will put the brakes on haredi integration. Pluralism in Israel and throughout the Jewish world may turn out to be just a dream. The two state solution, the only option for ensuring Israel’s Jewish character, is in real jeopardy. Taken together, this is bound to add distance between Israel and the Diaspora.

As Netanyahu begins his fourth term, he must show not only his political acumen, but, more important, his leadership. He carries an historic responsibility for the future of the Jewish state, and for the future of the Jewish people, as a religion and a civilization that has contributed much to humanity. His legacy as a leader will depend on whether he can speak and listen to everyone in Israel and one of its most important assets, world Jewry. He must take care that the Doctoroffs of our people don’t become alienated. That would be a tragedy.

And it is not his responsibility alone. Isaac Herzog and the party he leads are also critical to any chance of success, to any chance of moving forward. It is essential that Bibi and Buji unite forces with President Rivlin in the name of pluralism and democracy. They must quiet the lunatic fringe at both extremes. Pluralism is the opposite of lockstep conformity. As John Stuart Mill said, “That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”
Only by uniting forces and respecting the individual’s right to free thought and expression will the Jewish People survive, much less thrive, in a sometimes unfriendly international arena. Everyone should be wishing President Rivlin the best of luck – it won’t be an easy job.

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post