Political parting is such sweet sorrow. But sorrow at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s imminent departure is also coupled with a many-layered sense of volatility. It is a precariousness, both within Israel as it adjusts to a new and disparate governing coalition, and between Israel and its allies and neighbors, that hovers over Rivlin’s leave-taking.
On Monday, President Biden welcomed the outgoing Israeli President to Washington, where they discussed Iran, the Palestinians and other regional issues in the Oval Office.
On the first stop of his trip to the U.S., President Rivlin was honored at a farewell event on Sunday at the Moise Safra Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, hosted by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Gilad Erdan. It was attended by American Jewish community leaders, including executives of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Zionist Movement and the UJA-Federation of New York. They lauded the outgoing President for many years of dedicated service to the State of Israel.
Both Rivlin and Erdan referenced the date of the event — Shivah Asar B’Tammuz — in their remarks. According to Erdan, commemoration of this “difficult day in the history of the Jewish People” was no coincidence. “While we have … rebuilt the Jewish state in our eternal homeland … attacks on Jewish people in their country continue … and are extremely worrying.”
Erdan highlighted threats of antisemitism in America and around the world. He mentioned the “Iranian threat to destroy Israel” and the dangers of the upcoming “twentieth anniversary of the outrageous Durban Conference which turned into an antisemitic and anti-Israel hate fest.”
These national difficulties seem to mirror Erdan’s own political struggles. Indeed, the very morning before Sunday’s event, the former Likud lawmaker submitted his resignation from the U.S. ambassadorship to new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Although he will continue to stay on as Israel’s representative at the U.N., the tenuousness of internal politics cannot but affect external politics.
Rivlin also spoke against a backdrop of uncertainty, contrasting his commitment during his years in office to uniting all segments of Israeli and Jewish society with emerging and deepening rifts today. Repeatedly addressing those in the audience as his “dear brothers and sisters,” Rivlin’s call for unity masked a seemingly oblique admission that familial ties among Jewish groups may be threatened. “Even if we live many miles apart across lands and nations, across parties and ideologies, we are family; we are simply mishpachah,” he urged.
Rivlin castigated Iran and stressed the need to “rebuild ties between Jews and Israeli Arabs.” But he reserved his greatest fervor for “bipartisan support” for Israel, repeating it numerous times for emphasis.
According to Rivlin, the latest operation in Gaza exposed the underbelly of antisemitism around the world, and especially in the U.S. “Demonization of Israel is not only false but very dangerous. In a democracy, criticism of Israel’s policies is legitimate but should be based on knowledge and willingness to hear the two sides of the conflict, not based on ignorance, and not a way to cloak antisemitism and hatred for Israel and the Jewish People.”
Rivlin’s recognition of this “dangerous” predicament came simultaneously as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in Rome, faulted the previous Israeli government for the erosion of bipartisan support. Such discordant proclamations may themselves only serve to erode support for Israel, while it is to be hoped that demonization be levelled at Israel’s true enemies.
Rivlin’s departure is a transition, among many others, in Israel and abroad. Hopefully, smooth transitions will pave the way for smoother results.