Benjamin Netanyahu wasn’t running for Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency on Tuesday, but he’s emerged as the clearest loser after waging an unsuccessful campaign against the man who ultimately won, Reuven Rivlin, and he may have hastened his own political demise in the process.
In some ways, Rivlin has been the frontrunner for the presidency for the past seven years, in light of his finish as runner-up to Shimon Peres in the 2007 election. Israeli presidents are elected by the Knesset (הַכְּנֶסֶת), Israel’s 120-member unicameral parliament.
Rivlin defeated Meir Sheetrit, a former Likud MK who now belongs to Hatnuah (The Movement, הַתְּנוּעָה), the party founded in November 2012 by the centrist former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. On the final ballot, Rivlin won 63 votes against 53 for Sheetrit, who emerged from among four challengers as the chief ‘anti-Rivlin’ vote, attracting support from centrist and left-leaning MKs.
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Like Netanyahu, Rivlin is a member of the right-wing Likud (הַלִּיכּוּד), and he served as the Knesset’s speaker from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013. In that role, however, Rivlin often stood in the way of Netanyahu’s wishes in the name of defending parliamentary democracy:
The Netanyahu-Rivlin rift goes back to 2009, when the freshly victorious Netanyahu had Rivlin elected once again as Speaker of the Knesset. Rivlin, a tradionalist if there ever was one, soon proved to be much more loyal to parliament and to the letter of the law than to his own party. He stalled nearly every piece of anti-democratic legislation that came his way, deferring votes, sending bills to die in committees and even setting up committees especially to kill those bills he felt impinged on democratic rights. Along the way, he protected MK Hanin Zoabi when the Knesset tried to sanction her for taking part in the Gaza flotilla; elevated MK Ahmed Tibi, the Palestinian Israelis most love to hate, to deputy-speaker; acknowledged the “great suffering and real trauma” endured by Palestinians in 1948; and called for the establishment of one state in all of historical Israel-Palestine, where Palestinians would also have the vote.
The final straw came after RIvlin made a joke about Netanyahu’s wife and her behind-the-scenes influence (oddly enough, that’s one of the reasons that Netanyahu is said to have fallen out with his one-time chief of staff Naftali Bennett, who is now the leader of a rival right-wing party). After the most recent January 2013 national elections, Netanyahu unceremoniously dumped Rivlin as Knesset speaker and started casting about for an alternative to represent Likud in the presidential election. Continue reading How Netanyahu lost the Israeli presidential election