Rubi Rivlin is perhaps the last faithful representative of the liberal Zionist right wing.
In my youth, when I supported precisely this position, its representatives in my view were Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Meir Sheetrit.
They argued it was possible to combine a brand of Zionism which supported the Nakba (but which was willing to make gestures toward the exiles of Arab villages Iqrit and Bir’im) with support of the occupation (and a willingness to enable Palestinian autonomy, albeit without sovereignty). Alongside these, they believed a stable democracy was possible, in which, notwithstanding the superior rights granted to Jews in all matters pertaining to immigration and land, a genuine non-racist equality will exist in other domains. Such a democracy, according to the liberal Zionist right, also engendered a strong legal system. In this vision, the Israeli state and its citizens maintain a degree of “humanity” in their approach towards Palestinians, whom they grant basic human rights (instead of citizenship) amidst an ongoing military occupation. All this transpires, meanwhile, within a system of neoliberal capitalism that is meant to exist in a certain “humane” balance with a welfare state.
The refreshing addition that Rubi Rivlin brings to this right-wing liberal Zionist formula is a genuine emotional connection to Palestinians as children of this land; to Arab culture as a sister culture to Hebrew culture; and to Islam as a sister religion to Judaism (reflecting, among other things, his father’s prominence as a translator of the Qur’an to Hebrew). Rivlin’s right-wing liberal Zionism is neither secular nor religious. Rather, in his case, it might be considered “traditional.” He has once hinted at his own support for a one-state solution and for citizenship for Palestinians in the occupied territories, although he has never actively fought for such a reality.
It is no accident, however, that Rivlin’s position has gradually become extinct within the Likud, within the mainstream right wing, and within Zionism in general. It’s not simply because people don’t read enough Jabotinski, as Rivlin likes to say. Rather, it’s because Rivlin’s own brand of liberal right-wing Zionism offer no real solutions to its own contradictions: it seeks both a Jewish-centric regime and military occupation, on the one hand, and “humane” treatment of Palestinians, on the other; both capitalism and a welfare state; both a strong legal system and a non-racist society and human rights, on the one hand, and Nakba and endless wars, on the other.
People like Rivlin are nice people, but they speak like youth movement counselors. They do not wish to reckon with the difficult implications of their own words. Instead, they want to find the ethics within an endless cycle of vengeance. In doing so, they ignore the fact that if you truly want to stop the cycles of violence and of Jewish privilege, you have to acknowledge the Nakba and end the occupation. It’s no accident that our society is militarizing and increasingly embracing a vicious racism, just as it is no accident that neoliberal policies are destroying the welfare system.
Is Israeli president Rubi Rivlin a fig lead for the Israeli regime, just like Shimon Peres? Or can Rivlin offer something positive and new? The difference between Rivlin and Peres is that the former is genuine in his intentions, and brings with him a real love for Arab culture. This counts for something. But it also makes him a radical leftist according to the Israeli right, which has long since stopped speaking against racism or in favor of democracy.
English translation: ilil benjamin