Not Jewish (Reuven Rivlin) Israel and Democratic (Light Unto the Nations)

Print More

(Cross-posted from Jewish Philosophy Place)

Credit: Jewish Philosophy Place

The next President of the State of Israel is Reuven Rivlin, a blue chip and well regarded Herut guy of the old liberal stripe committed to a 1 State Solution. Rivlin is on record supporting the annexation of the West Bank and extending full citizenship and citizenship-rights to the West Bank Palestinians. This essay of his appeared in the Times of Israel. It was originally written for the Israel Democracy Institute as part of the run-up for the election. Rivlin understands the symbolic office of the presidency as a form of weak or non-sovereign power or center of gravity. One could call its value “paedeic.” Against the grain, the thinking reflected in this piece is open-minded, post-nationalist, and post-Zionist. Instead of “hasbara,” instead of occupation, he wants Israel to be “a light unto the nations.”
Israel is not Jewish. The focus in these remarks is on democracy, Israeli society, and the creation of a shared social fabric. Note that here are only 4 mentions of the word “Jewish” in Rivlin’s essay. Each mention of which represents a complex thought, not a brute national assertion. According to the next President of the State of Israel, “Jewish” refers not so much to a national identity formation, not to a historical, national, or religious claim to a right. Instead, “Jewish” refers to [1] a simple demographic fact regarding changing majority-minority relations in a country in which today there is no clear secular-Jewish-Zionist majority as once was the case. [2 & 3] Jewish is presented as a point of tension in relation to “democracy” that needs to be “mediated,” and is regarded as [4] a source of revolutionary and innovative ideas.
Is this how the 2-State Solution begins to end? What does it mean that the President of the State of Israel now supports the creation of a binational state? Politically, it changes nothing for right now, but perhaps we will start to see a shift in the discourse, one that will be welcome to some, and not to others.
About Rivlin, Dimi Reiderhere at +972 calls him the best candidate for the (one-state) left as the 2 State Solution implodes. Here’s why:

As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky – and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.

Zachary Braiterman writes about and teaches modern Jewish thought and culture in the department of religion at Syracuse University.