Rivlin was the favorite candidate of the Israel populace. Most Israelis were convinced he would win the first round of the voting. The big question was whether someone might be powerful enough to beat him in a second round. Sheetrit almost fit the bill, but not quite.
In a victory speech, Rivlin emphasized that he will be president of all, “Jew, Arab, Druse, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.”
“We have reached the end of a difficult and turbulent election cycle; the public’s trust in the presidency has suffered a hard blow,” he said. “It is our duty to rehabilitate and restore it. I thank my fellow candidates, who added glory to the battle, and hope they continue to serve the public.”
“I congratulate and thank the MKs who voted for me and saw in me a symbol of national unity and Jewish tradition,” he told chareidi newsmen. “These are the values I grew up with, and in my position as president I will do all I can to bring about closeness and unity. From my position as president of the State of Israel, I will set up a special staff and work to unify the disparate parts of the nation.”
After his victory, Rivlin headed to the Kosel. His next stop was the kevorim of his parents and Menachem Begin, his mentor, on Har Hazeisim.
No contender achieved the required 61-vote majority in the first round of voting during which Rivlin got 44 votes, Sheetrit 31, former Kadima MK Daliah Itzik 28, retired Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner 13, and Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Dan Shechtman only one.
Two presidential candidates dropped out of the race before this week’s vote. MK Binyomin Ben Eliezer of Labor left due to police questioning over bribe allegations, and Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom exited the race after a police investigation delved into his personal life and failed to dig up sufficient evidence.
Rivlin, a member of the Knesset since 1988, comes from an old Yerushalmi family descended from talmidim of the Vilna Gaon who moved to Eretz Yisroelin 1802 and have lived in Yerushalayim ever since.
Rivlin ran in the 2007 presidential race but withdrew after the first round. A large determinant of this week’s vote was the position held by Rivlin and Sheetrit during the Gaza disengagement. Rivlin violently opposed it and was generally, but not completely, favored by the right. Sheetrit was a great proponent of the disengagement, saying that he “never heard such a ridiculous idea” as the notion that the withdrawal might be dangerous for nearby Negev communities. This attitude helped him garner more votes from the left. Due to political differences, Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to back Rivlin, a member of his own party, even during the desperate hours of voting.
After initial hesitation due to Rivlin’s vote in favor of the draft law, most MKs of UTJ and Shas ended up supporting him. Indeed, because of the overwhelming chareidi support, MK Yoni Chetboun of Bayit Yehudi suggested that chareidim should now be allowed into the government coalition.
Chareidi MKs praised the new president.
“Today, the State of Israel has merited to be represented by a fitting person who knows how to unify the country’s different groups, bridge controversies, and represent Israel on the world stage. His election reflects the choice of most of the nation and of myself,” MK Eli Yishai of Shas said. “I am happy at the election of my friend Reuven Rivlin to the position of president. His success is yours.”
MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ noted that Litzman is basically sympathetic to Jewish tradition.
“My congratulations to the president of the country, my friend Rubi Rivlin, who was chosen to the highest governmental position,” he said. “The presidency has received a man of values, a man who is warmer to Jewish tradition, and someone who has been close to the opinions and standpoints of chareidi MKs for years.”
“Rubi is the right person at the right place,” said MK Aryeh Deri of Shas. He is a warm Jew who will bring honor to the State of Israel and the Israeli people.”
Reportedly, David Ben Gurion created the presidency to get rid of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weitzman. Ben Gurion felt that Weitzman deserved a political prize for serving many years as president of the World Zionist Organization, but did not want him meddling in his political affairs. So he sent Weitzman upstairs to the presidency, of which Weitzman was wont to say that the only thing he could do was “blow his nose.”
The Supreme Court, too, described the job as a beautiful, but empty, vessel, writing, “The president represents the state, and its moral and democratic values… In his role, he represents a non-partisan official nature, and the lines that connect and unify the various streams of Israeli society. In his personality, he is supposed to reflect the good, the beautiful, the moral and unique aspects of the public in Israel. He is supposed to serve as a model and an example through the manner in which he fills his role, as well as in his personal conduct.”
Once every few years, presidents hold the future of the country in their hands. This is in the event that no party has a majority in national elections. In such a case, the president determines which party leader will have first chance at attempting to form a coalition.
Useless or not, the Israel public is better off to have a rightist politician who is respectful of tradition in the presidency.