Will Rivlin Tackle Hatred?

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, איציק הררי, cc-by-2.0)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, איציק הררי, cc-by-2.0)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin may have found his calling. Addressing an audience at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities conference titled “From Xenophobia to Accepting the Other” Sunday, Rivlin complained of rising ethnic tensions and the growing culture of violence in Israeli society.

“It is time to honestly admit that Israeli society is ill – and it is our duty to treat this disease,” he said.

Following Shimon Peres’s act was not going to be an easy accomplishment, but I have written previously that Rivlin possesses the right personality for the job. His initial address, given at a toned-down ceremony during the Gaza operation, hinted that social issues were going to be at the forefront of his agenda, and as a lifetime member of the Likud party this came as little surprise.

But the summer’s war has provided an opportunity for Rivlin to take on a real challenge.

Here are some ideas of where to start:

1) Instill trust between community leaders and law enforcement – One of the most disturbing trends within Israel in recent years has been the rise in violence (not just price tag attacks as the media harps upon, violence takes on many forms). But regardless of the source, the first step remains the same: encourage community leadership and local law enforcement officials to cooperate together. Reinforce the public’s trust in the police. Without this crucial link, the law’s ability the protect citizens is significantly hampered.

2) Revamp the education system – The Ministry of Education needs to make this a bigger priority, and not just in the form of small projects in specific locations, but as a wholesale revolution across the country. There is only one reason why Arab and Jewish students aren’t engaging in programming with one another, and that is because institutionally it is not a priority.

3) Talk tough with MKs about rough talk – Israelis need to take ownership of words and their consequences. Members of Knesset may not be most Israeli’s role models, but they are representatives of particular political and ethnic communities. Can one expect citizens to resist the urge to release their frustrations violently, or chant racist slogans at football matches, if some of their elected officials espouse hate-filled rhetoric from the plenum floor?

4) Prepare the ground for negotiations with the Palestinians – The best thing that an elder statesman like Rivlin can do is lead by example. Not only should he accept every invitation to meet with Arab and Muslim heads of state, he should be seeking those meetings at every opportunity, putting the ball in their court. If Netanyahu is serious about reaching out to Arab states in order to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians, then Rivlin should help get that PR process started.

The war in Gaza proved that there is much work left to be done, and that two decades of progress can be undone pretty rapidly by the heinous crimes of extremists. But Israeli society needs to accept responsibility for allowing a culture of violence to enter its dark spaces. Israel desperately needs a politician to wrestle with those issues, rather than one who will allow institutional walls be built between various ethnic and religious groups. He may only be a figurehead, but Rivlin has enough public goodwill that if he dedicates himself to this challenge the nation might follow him.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel