Israeli President Reuven Rivlin continues to impress, walking a delicate line between the increasingly strident political camps of left and right in the Jewish state. We wish other Jewish leaders, here and in Israel, would follow his example of thoughtfulness and commitment to tolerance and inclusion. The former Likud leader’s balancing act leaves him criticized on all sides, but determined to speak his mind in seeking to speak for all Israelis.
Rivlin’s brief visit to New York last weekend was a case in point. He attended a conference sponsored by Haaretz and the New Israel Fund, two major institutions on the left, which featured a member of Breaking The Silence, a controversial group of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers who publicly criticize the actions of the army in the West Bank.
Rivlin praised the dovish newspaper as a “beacon of democracy,” though pointing out that he often disagrees with its views. And he described the IDF as “the most moral army in the world,” an implicit criticism of Breaking The Silence, which has been relentless in insisting that the Israeli occupation undermines the IDF’s moral code.
Whether Breaking The Silence is an ethical voice in the prophetic tradition, calling out the army’s shortcomings, or an overly strident group whose accusations further isolate Israel’s standing in the world, we caution strongly those who would call these former IDF soldiers “traitors.”
That, in effect, is what a provocatively right-wing Israeli group, Im Tirtzu, did recently when it released a video that showed and named four left-wing activists, including one from Breaking The Silence. It referred to them as “moles” of foreign governments seeking to sabotage Israel’s efforts to thwart Palestinian terror. The strong implication is that such behavior is incitement and must be stopped by any means necessary.
Such threats can lead to bloodshed, as Israelis who still mourn Yitzchak Rabin know all too well.
Irresponsible, dangerous name-calling — left or right — must be called out and denounced. But through words, not actions. President Rivlin has shown the way by engaging and interacting with groups he strongly opposes, underscoring the blessing and responsibility of an open society.