Not Jewish (Reuven Rivlin) Israel and Democratic (Light Unto the Nations)

rivlin

The next President of the State of Israel is Reuven Rivlin, a blue chip and well regarded Herut guy of the old liberal stripe committed to a 1 State Solution. Rivlin is on record supporting the annexation of the West Bank and extending full citizenship and citizenship-rights to the West Bank Palestinians. I’m posting this this essay of his that appeared in the Times of Israel. It was originally written for the Israel Democracy Institute as part of the run-up for the election. Rivlin understands the symbolic office of the presidency as a form of weak or non-sovereign power or center of gravity. One could call its value “paedeic.” Against the grain, the thinking reflected in this piece is open-minded, post-nationalist, and post-Zionist. Instead of “hasbara,” instead of occupation, he wants Israel to be “a light unto the nations.”

Israel is not Jewish. The focus in these remarks is on democracy, Israeli society, and the creation of a shared social fabric. Note that there are only 4 mentions of the word “Jewish” in Rivlin’s essay. Each mention of which represents a complex thought, not a brute national assertion. According to the next President of the State of Israel, “Jewish” refers not so much to a national identity formation, not to a historical, national, or religious claim to a right. Instead, “Jewish” refers to [1] a simple demographic fact regarding changing majority-minority relations in a country in which today there is no clear secular-Jewish-Zionist majority as once was the case. [2 & 3] Jewish is presented as a point of tension in relation to “democracy” that needs to be “mediated,” and is regarded as a [4] a source of revolutionary and innovative ideas.

Is this how the 2 State Solution begins to end? What does it mean that the President of the State of Israel now supports the creation of a binational state? Politically, it changes nothing for right now, but perhaps we start to see a shift in the discourse, one that will be welcome to some, and not to others.

About Rivlin, Dimi Reider here at +972 calls him the best candidate for the (one-state) left as the 2 State Solution implodes. Here’s why:

“As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky  – and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.

As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky  – and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.”

 

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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5 Responses to Not Jewish (Reuven Rivlin) Israel and Democratic (Light Unto the Nations)

  1. Michael says:

    Are you reading what you want to read? Reuven Rivlin writes:
    “Without neglecting hasbara, I believe that it is important […].”
    Not “instead of “hasbara,””, (without the quotation marks) as you claim, but without neglecting it. And he didn’t mention occupation at all, so I am at a loss as to how you got that one. He refers to “Jews” and “Jewish” 10 times at least, so its what you choose to count there.

    As anyone who ever visted Israel knows, Israel is Jewish. Rivlin states that “the tension inherent in the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state make the presidency important”, and goes on to mention the “Jewish character and the democratic nature of the State of Israel”. So “Jewish” refers to the character of the state, to its very definition, which according to Rivlin makes the presidency important, because and not despite the tensions it brings.

    And of course the whole essay should be viewed in context of the brutal political campaign for the Presidency. I don’t think Rivlin doesn’t mean it, but the timing and the word choice of a politician are his primary tool.

    • zjb says:

      Michael, I think i’m reading what i’m reading, and perhaps more carefully than you. I’m still counting 4 mentions, not 10 of “Jewish,” and, sorry, but to me, they seemed highly qualified in their assertions. As for the “let’s not neglect hasbara,” that to me sounds like a diplomatic (i.e. subtle) way to say that there are more important things on the national agenda. As for the “Jewish character” of the state, I saw that too. But you don’t mention how Rivlin then goes on to say that this relation needs to be “mediated.” Sorry, but I still read this statement as more “Israeli” than “Jewish.”

      • Michael says:

        I think that in today’s world, “Israeli” becomes more and more synonymous with “Jewish”. In the long term, it is impossible to lead a Jewish life outside the Jewish country. Further, I agree with Mr. Rivlin that Israel is both Jewish AND democratic. Its not a case of a struggle which one wins.

  2. efmooney says:

    Leading presidential candidate Ruby Rivlin has refused to address Reform rabbis as ‘rabbis,’ and once compared Reform Judaism to Christianity. Is he capable of changing his mind?

    • zjb says:

      another sad sign, perhaps of the “parting of ways” signaled by Butler between Israel and US Jewry, or something that will be forgotten over time?

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