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Israel’s president warns of growing social schism, loss of moral compass

The fault line between the “only Netanyahu” tribe against the “anyone but Netanyahu tribe” appears unprecedented, and the social chasms seem unbridgeable.
Police carry away a protester during an anti-government demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem on August 29, 2020. - Protests demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign over several corruption indictments and his handling of the coronavirus crisis have been mounting in recent weeks, and the premier has been scathing in his counter-attack. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

President Reuven Rivlin could no longer contain himself. Rivlin, perhaps the last of a generation of dignified elder statesmen, took the podium on Oct. 12 to deliver the opening address of the Knesset’s winter session. The speech was meant to douse the flames licking at the edges of Israeli society. “It is unthinkable that every night, demonstrators are beating demonstrators. Police are beating demonstrators. Demonstrators are throwing stones at the police,” Rivlin thundered. “Israel’s tribalism is breaking out through the cracks, and accusatory fingers are pointed from one part of society to the other, one tribe to the other. Stop! Please stop! This is not the way. Pain must have its place. … It seems to me as if we have lost the moral compass that was with us from the state’s independence until today. The compass of fundamental principles and values that we are committed to uphold.”

The unprecedented speech, alternately warning and beseeching, did not resonate as expected. The public climate in Israel these days is the most explosive ever. Israel has experienced the assassination of a prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin in 1995), but it has never been this close to civil war.

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