Israel’s president: ‘There’s nothing more Jewish than disagreement’

“There is nothing more Jewish than pointed disagreement. And there is nothing more democratic than pointed disagreement,” Rivlin told a Bible-study gathering ahead of elections.

By World Israel News Staff

President Reuven (Ruvi) and Nechama Rivlin hosted the 22nd Bible Study Group of “929” – an initiative, which began in 2014, whereby anyone can study a chapter a day through the app, on the website or with a printed volume in hand – at his residence on Sunday.

The evening’s discussions were titled, “The Power of Disagreement and the Culture of Discourse.” Participants included President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon, Minister Dan Meridor, Professors Tzvia and Raphael Walden, Rabbi Benny Lau and representatives of Or Lamishpachot, an organization that works with families who have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks.

The president discussed a bible-study group that had made a lasting impression on him, a “monumental encounter between two giants that took place every week not far from here, at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.”

“Perhaps 500 people, myself included, crammed into a lecture theater that generally held 100 people every Wednesday to watch the best show in town, the great and mighty debate between Professor [Israel] Eldad and Professor [Yeshayahu] Leibowitz. What made us determined to crowd together to see two elderly Jews shout at each other?

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‘Nothing else could produce such inspiration’

“The reaction, the strong reaction, the fusion that happened when two such opposing and different elements are brought together with force. Nothing else could produce such inspiration. Although they were both real hawks, when the argument between them became very heated, they never called the other ‘traitor,’ heaven forbid.”

“There is nothing more Jewish than pointed disagreement,” the president stated. “And there is nothing more democratic than pointed disagreement. It is possible, important and perhaps even crucial to discuss and to insist on a culture of disagreement. But firstly, the disagreement itself is needed.

“Today, we are so sorely missing these encounters in the public sphere,” he lamented.

“I want to say this as we approach elections,” Rivlin declared. “I know well the fear of what might happen when two opposing elements come together in our small country. In the Israeli reality, it is very tempting to avoid real, painful, pointed encounters. It is tempting to create a false reality where we are all the same, to blur the edges, to melt everyone into a single bloc. Or, on the other hand, to present the world as if there is only black and white. No possibility to meet the other, to talk to the other. Us and them.

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Recognizing the ‘other’

“In fact, both those pictures are distorted and they have disastrous potential. The realization that disagreement and discussion are options is in fact the way to recognize that there is an other, and that he or she is really, truly different from me.”

“Dealing with the reality of today’s Israel – security, political and civil – is a complex and delicate task,” he continued. “The political battlefield is over leadership, statesmanship and even over the ability to mediate and manage complexity, in our incredibly complicated and sensitive geo-political reality and our civil reality, comprising groups that have very different outlooks and beliefs.

“If we build roads to bypass encountering the other, if we continue to ignore the power of disagreement, of what it can bring forth, we will miss out on the most important way of understanding ourselves,” he warned.

However, the president concluded, “I believe in us Israelis, and in our common sense. I believe in the strength of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and so I have no doubt that argument will flourish. That the discourse that has always been the secret of our success, the secret of our audacity, our creativity and our growth, will win. I have no doubt that when we embrace disagreement and when those who disagree know how to embrace, then we will know how to find the best solutions and the best compromises.”

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Esther Hayut, president of the Supreme Court, concurred, explaining that “when two sides to a disagreement argue that every one of their claims are crucial, that every point they make is crucial and that any concession is impossible, the chance of finding a solution is slim. On the other hand, when a side to a disagreement prioritizes for himself, first of all, what is most important and what is least important, what is key for him and what are the red lines that he is not prepared to cross, that is a basis for discussion, for negotiation and for finding solutions.

“In my experience as a judge in the various tribunals over 30 years, I can say that when sides come to a compromise agreement in a legal matter, it is generally the result of their willingness to prioritize what comes first, and it is this willingness that often paves the way to find creative solutions to a disagreement that benefit both sides,” she said.