Getting Reuven Rivlin, and the Israeli Right, Wrong

Six months ago, when Reuven Rivlin was being considered for the position of president of Israel, the press eagerly painted him as a right-wing fanatic at whose hands the Jewish state would “be thrust into a dark era of international isolation.” A leading Israeli newspaper referred to him as “the Philosopher Clown.” As president, however, Rivlin has shocked his critics by, among other things, speaking out for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Their befuddlement, writes Liel Leibovitz, comes not from some sudden change in Rivlin but from their habit of thinking in stereotypes and their cluelessness about the foundational ideology of the Israeli right:

It is dispiriting to see so many pundits opine without regard for Rivlin’s legislative record and ideological roots—his is a firm commitment to Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s teachings, which stressed in equal measure a dedication to the land of Israel and to the values of liberal democracy. But it is infuriating to know that beneath this thin veneer of ignorance lies a deeper Manichean mindset, one in which a passionate Zionist can no more be a tireless defender of civil liberties than a bull can work the showroom of his neighborhood china shop.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Israeli politics, Likud, Reuven Rivlin, Vladimir Jabotinsky

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas