Rivlin ‘clarifies’ position on anti-government protests, says ‘words were misunderstood’

After praising citizens who leave their computers to rally in town squares against corruption, the Israeli president says he does not call on Israelis to demonstrate.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a somewhat confusing turn of events, President Reuven Rivlin walked back his praise of the thousands of demonstrators who have come out in recent weeks to protest alleged government corruption.

Speaking at the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy on Tuesday, Rivlin said there were “wonderful proofs in recent years of the influence that the social networks have on reality,” citing the “cottage cheese” protests in the summer of 2011, the #MeToo campaign and the most recent rallies for clean government in Jerusalem.

“Notice that all these examples have gone from words to deeds, leaving the screen and taking hold in real life as well,” he said, adding,“We must raise a generation that will remember that a true democracy can begin on the Internet, but it will never replace the need to take part in … substantial action.”

On Wednesday, however, Rivlin said he regretted that his words were misunderstood. “To remove any doubt, I will say as clearly as possible, I never called on anyone, nor would I consider calling on any Israeli citizens to join in this, or any other, protest,” he said in a statement. “It is inconceivable. I only regret that at this sensitive time my words were taken out of context in order to add fuel to the fire.”

“At this time, it is incumbent on all of us, especially public servants, to carefully choose our words, so that they will not be misused or cause harm, God forbid. I therefore found it necessary to clarify my words and regret the mistaken impression created by them.”

Demonstrations have been taking place regularly ever since police started investigating several high-level cases of alleged corruption this year. Two involve Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu over expensive gifts he and his family received from wealthy friends and his alleged attempt to bribe the Yediot Aharonot newspaper to tone down its criticism of him. Another targets some of his closest advisers’ supposed criminal involvement in the state purchase of German-made submarines.

For months now, a few hundred have been rallying weekly outside the Petah Tivah home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, but in the past month, thousands have protested in Tel Aviv as police are close to finishing the two investigations against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has accused the leaders of these rallies of being leftists who want to bring down the government. On Saturday night, for the first time, a protest in Jerusalem was organized by self-styled right-wingers and drew a few hundred people.