Reuven Rivlin, New President of Israel

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Reuven Rivlin, a veteran lawmaker, will be at the helm of the affairs of the state of Israel as the new president. Rivlin, who succeeds Shimon Peres as the 10th president, is not a political novice. Chosen by members of the parliament, the veteran lawyer from the right-wing Likud party will cease to be a Member of the Knesset (MK) after  June 10. In a secret ballot, Rivlin defeated MP Meir Sheetrit by 63 to 53 to take the position.

It is reported that Rivlin will take up the post after Peres, 90, steps down in July following his seven-year term. Rivlin’s role will be largely ceremonial and he will have no role in the ensuing dialogue with Palestine. The newly-elected president does not share the same view as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as far as Palestine is concerned. He opposes the formation of a separate Palestine and supports Jewish settlements along the occupied West Bank. His personal view of the issue is at odds with the Prime Minister and the party, leaving him open to scrutiny by the party and by other nations.

No longer claiming to be affiliated to any party, Rivlin, who won in the second round of voting on Tuesday, called himself a “man of the nation.” Speaking ecstatically to a Knesset member, Rivlin, the new President of Israel, announced his mission of letting democracy flourish in Israel. Born in 1939 in Jerusalem to Yosef Yoel Rivlin, the 74-year old Rivlin studied law and graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A vegetarian since the late 1960s and a father of four, he is a big fan of the Beitar Jerusalem football club and has been so since he watched his first game in 1946.

Elected to the 12th Knesset in 1988, Rivin went on to serve as chairman of the Likud party until 1993. After losing his seat in 1992, he returned to the Knesset four years later. Rising to power in 1999, he was chosen as Israel’s Minister of Communications in 2001 and held the post for two years. In 2003, he was elected as the Knesset Speaker, a role that earned him national criticism. As an outspoken critic of Ariel Sharon’s policies, the lawyer constantly broke convention with publicized spats. Top posts in Israel typically demand political neutrality and Rivlin, with his views on Sharon, was a supporter of the disengagement plan. Opposing the decision to declare Israeli legislation illegal, Rivlin had a very public spat with Aharon Barak, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Rivlin has been an outspoken supporter of the Jewish settlement along the West Bank, and was quoted in 2010 to have declared that he would accept Palestinians as Israelis and not carve the state in two. He also made headlines with his criticism of Pope Benedict XVI, whose previous service in the Nazi  army was called out when the Pope addressed Israel at the Yad Vashem memorial. Rivlin, who invited the ire of many Members of Knesset (MK) and the political right, was the center of controversy in 2010. Ignoring the advice from the committee that wanted Haneed Zoabi, a Balad MK, removed for his role in the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010, Rivlin earned praise from foreign and liberal Israelis for his efforts to protect democracy. Campaigning for the recognition of the Armenian genocide, the active politician gives speeches on the issue. He insists that the genocide is not a political issue, but a reminder of the tragedy that Armenia faced during WWI. He also insisted in 2012 that the genocide was not an accusation against Turkey or its government.

Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated Rivlin on his election and promised joint action in unifying Israel internally and against external challenges. Israelis know that Rivlin, the new president of Israel, has a tough act to follow. Peres is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George -honors he received for his work in Israel. After being sworn in as Israel’s newest president on July 24, Rivlin is expected to shift his focus from international affairs to domestic issues.

By Rathan Paul Harshavardan