In a gala ceremony, but a subdued one, Reuven Rivlin was sworn in Thursday evening as the tenth President of Israel. The ceremony was held in the shadow of the heavy fighting still going on in Gaza, as IDF troops continued to pummel away at Hamas terrorists and destroy their rocket and tunnel infrastructure.
As a result of the war, a reception that was to be held after the ceremony was canceled. The decision to cancel was made by Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Edelstein, speaking first, opened his comments with a prayer for the safety of IDF soldiers. A large portion of his speech was dedicated to discussing the war effort. “We entered this just campaign in order to bring about an end to the ongoing damage our citizens suffer. We embrace our soldiers, as we would members of our own family,” Edelstein said.
Turning to outgoing President Shimon Peres, Edelstein said that “for nearly 60 years you have been a part of the Israeli political system, here in the Knesset. You made your views well know to all, and set an agenda. Once you became president, you placed politics aside and became as one of the people, of all the people. You were the man of hope, the man of the future.” To the incoming president, Edelstein said that “this war shall pass, and on your shoulders will be the most difficult burden – to unite the people and heal the tears in Israeli society. I know you are prepared for this battle, which will come the day after the Gaza battle ends.”
Peres also dedicated a good portion of his speech to Operation Protective Edge. “Hamas fires at us but it cannot answer two simple questions: Why is shooting at us? There is no more occupation of Gaza. What does it seek to achieve? We showed them they could achieve things without making war on us, yet they chose to do so. We have suffered 68 years of terror, but they have brought much destruction to their nation. They have never beaten us, and only caused suffering for their citizens and destruction for Gaza. Hamas has no answers and learns no lessons.”
Rivlin began his speech with the recitation of the “Shehechiyanu” blessing, recited upon the embarking upon of an important new project. “With prayer, dear, and modesty I present myself to fulfill your will and to act in your name.”
The Gaza war was also a main subject of Rivlin's speech. Rivlin said Israel would not be bowed by the ongoing violence in Gaza. "We are gathered here today not only because the law requires it, but also with a very clear message to our enemies: you have not overcome us and you will not do so," he said.
“The Hamas terrorists may dig their tunnels, shoot from within schools, use civilians as human shields, but this terrorism will not drive us back, will not weaken our spirit. We are not fighting against the Palestinian people, and we are not at war with Islam -- we are fighting terrorism," he said.
And in a direct address to Peres, he said: "Seven years ago, you stood on this platform and told us that you never dreamed of being president. You said your dream as a boy was to be a shepherd or a poet of the stars.
“Your dream, Mr President, came true. You were for us a shepherd of hope and a poet of vision."
Peres will on Friday leave his official residence in Jerusalem and move into a new apartment in Tel Aviv, close to the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, Haaretz reported.
Rivlin will officially begin his term in office on Monday, drawing a line under what many Israelis have seen as a golden age of the presidency. A lawyer by profession, Rivlin has won widespread support from across the political spectrum for his determined defense of democracy and civil rights.
Rivlin has a tough act to follow, with Peres's charisma and global standing enabling him to transcend the largely ceremonial position of the presidency and use it to promote his personal views on the peace process - often provoking friction with elected officials who resented what they saw as an interference which undermined Israeli democracy.