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President Rivlin addresses the Opening of the Knesset Winter Session
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President Rivlin addresses the Opening of the Knesset Winter Session

31 October 2016

President Rivlin addresses the Opening of the Knesset Winter Session

(Communicated by the President's Spokesperson) 


President Reuven Rivlin today (Monday), addressed the opening of the Third Session of the 20th Knesset.


Below is the President's address:


I want to begin my words by remembering together with you Levana Malihi who worked in the Knesset, and was killed in a murderous terrorist attack in Jerusalem, together with First Sergeant Yosef Kirma. As one who sat in the Knesset for many years, I was fortunate to come to know Levana, and was impressed by her warmth and big heartedness. Together with all those who work in this house, I feel the pain of this great loss and send my deepest sympathies to her family.


Here with us today, are the parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin, and the parents of Avraham Mengisto who is held captive by Hamas. The State of Israel will continue to do all in its power to fulfil the obligation upon it to bring Oron and Hadar to rest in peace, and to return Avraham to his family. Our hearts our with these dear families, who carry with them this pain and yearning each and every day.


Ladies and gentlemen, today we open the new Winter Session of the 20th Knesset, at a challenging and complex time for democracies throughout the world. Against a background of political upheavals occurring in the West, the free world, it is no secret that democracy – or western liberal democracy – is in a state of confusion. Confusion on the left and on the right. Many citizens across the world feel that the existing democratic system is struggling to function and moreover is struggling to offer an answer to their needs in light of the current threat of terrorism, the current wave of migration and refugees, or the on-going economic and employment crises. Others are suspicious of the disturbing interrelationship between wealth, governance, the media, interest groups, and politicians. There are yet others who point to the threat in the debate itself - in the liberal, democratic, moral debate, the debate on human rights, on civil rights, the debate on the rule of law and values - the rules of “politically correct” debate that has been forced upon them in a way that has stifled their identity and ability to express their opinion. A debate whose function in practice – as they see it – is to silence them, and to perpetuate the privileges of the supposedly enlightened elite.


Research studies and surveys conducted in many democratic countries indicate a sharp increase in the percentage of citizens who do not see themselves duty-bound to the principles of the democratic process. Many of these are young people, who were born and raised in prosperous and successful democracies, yet today consider the liberal rights debate as offensive to them, as threatening and displacing them. Today we see citizens of democracies, older than ours, who are prepared to surrender some of their freedoms for the sake of strong leadership - sometimes demagogic and populist – yet able to establish stability and display strength. These transformations, difficult as they may be to swallow, are not necessarily lacking legitimacy.


We may be shocked by them, we may support them, but we must deal with them. It would be a grave error to deny them, or alternatively to bemoan from diverse platforms the end of democracy, complain about “losing the way” and the destruction of values. These are value-based positions struggling with the definition of the boundaries, the character, and the legitimacy of democracy.


Honored members of Knesset, just as in every other democratic country, democracy is being hotly debated in Israel. It is legitimate to remove the gloves, we may even be able to clarify and refine ideas by 'slaughtering some sacred cows', by escaping the comfortable safety of consensus, or by the ideological castration of “political correctness”.  As for me, I fear neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees. However, even if we do take off our gloves during fierce internal debate, we must not lose our integrity, our fundamental honesty with regard to ourselves, with regard to others. Our debate about the values of the IDF, about the courts, about the citizenship registry, about culture and creativity, and about the relative importance and significance of the “values” in the balance between the Jewish State and the democratic state  ̶  this is a debate that we are carrying out today on foundations that - until recently - were considered to be the “sacred principles”, as it were, of Israeli democracy. This is an important debate, this is an essential debate, this is a fruitful debate. But, this is a debate in which we must be scrupulously careful about the integrity of our arguments and of their implications.


Honorable Members of Knesset. We do not have to agree on overly complex values in order to maintain honest, clear and consistent politics that will allow us to provide a more valid response to the needs of Israeli society.  Politics allows us to rise above even legitimate interests and to move ahead on the basis of great comprehensive ideas. The significance of that integrity is to display respect for the decision-making processes; to display a commitment to formulating a coherent world view, and to take responsibility for its implications; to explain the principle and the rules, rather than why my electorate or my sector is an exception to those rules. The significance of that integrity is, first and foremost, to relate seriously to ourselves, to the positions that we express.  Because if we do not take ourselves seriously, no one will. It is permissible for us to debate IDF values, but in the final analysis the IDF is not a democratic body, it has one single source of authority, the commander. It is permissible for us to disagree about rulings of the Supreme Court, but we are obliged to obey its decisions, for if we do not, then [as is written in the Mishnah] “people would swallow each other alive.


So, those in favor of a public broadcasting authority cannot turn it into a trumpet of the commissars, and those who oppose a public broadcasting authority should come and state a clear opinion.  Those who want a public broadcasting authority must ensure that it is unbiased across the party divides.  For we all realize that on the “big wheel” of politics, sometimes you are at the top, and sometimes you are at the bottom. And so, those in favor of artistic freedom, without political involvement but with state funding, cannot boycott communities that think differently from them, whether they live in Kiryat Arba or in Akko.


There is a not insignificant measure of audacity and distortion in a person who demands that the residents of Amona pay the full price with the destruction of their homes because of a court order while he, himself, refuses to accept the decision of the Israeli electorate to accept the game rules of the State of Israel, and applies to the UN Security Council in the hope that it will use all its force against the State of Israel.


This too is not a question of politics and values, it is a question of basic integrity. Those who support territorial compromise, must clearly explain the meaning of that alternative given the current Palestinian leadership; and those in favor of the “Greater Israel”, cannot refrain from dealing with the situation of the Palestinians and our relationship with them. Those in favor of dividing Jerusalem should be called upon to explain how we would be able to protect our capital city when extremist Islamist forces will rage unhindered on the other side;  and those in favor of maintaining a united Jerusalem should be called upon to take care of the sewage system in Silwan, and the classrooms in Isawiya.


I have seen the justified pride of Arab leaders at the rise in the number of Arab students enrolled in the Haifa Technion.  But those who struggle for recognition of equality by the State, should be called upon to respect that State and its symbols, and take the trouble to attend a state funeral.


Members of Knesset, beyond the deep disputes heard between us our commitment is essential, to basic integrity, to dialogue with each other, with and on behalf of the public. That integrity is important in the politics of all the western democracies in an era where fundamental values are being put to the test, and are being doubted; and it is immensely more important in a society like that of Israel. Unlike other democracies, the State of Israel that has achieved great things in many fields has not yet defined its borders. We do not have a constitution that clearly regulates the rules of the game. We are fighting for international recognition of the legitimacy of our existence as a nation that returned to its national homeland even against preposterous resolutions by international bodies that pull away the legitimate foundation for our existence. Our social system in Israel is not only divided between right and left, it is divided into four separate groupings, into four “tribes” that are divided by law into four separate education systems, secular, religious, Haredi and Arab.


Dear friends, whatever our value-based position may be this is the reality we must deal with, and particularly you, all the Members of Knesset as representatives of the public and as those who are more than any, sensitive to the spirit and the positions of the Israeli public. The integrity that I have been speaking of today is a precondition for gaining the confidence of the public in Israeli politics, but it is also a basic precondition for our ability to move forward. Obviously the sphere of politics is a field of fiery struggle that necessitates detours and bends. However a political system that ceases to serve as an arena for the fight between clear and consistent ideas and ideologies, places us in danger of mediocrity and of marching in on the spot. The Zionist movement arose through historical courage, through the decision not to serve as passive extras in the plot of history, but rather to design and shape that history with our own hands. The State of Israel is a model of daring, of the development of great ideas and their implementation, of initiative, courage, and of taking responsibility. Let us all continue to maintain and uphold that spirit. This House has the task of continuing this work: of continuing the building of the home that is not yet completed, of designing the basic rules of our lives here, of designing the relationships between the different groups that live here, of designing our relationship with our neighbors.


I wish you all a stormy and courageous Knesset Session that will increase the respect for this House, and will advance the building of the home we all share. Bless you all.