The President of Israel doesn’t have a whole lot of responsibilities, but one of them, when the job is done well and the holder of the office is well respected, has been to be a sort of moral and ethical conscience. In that light, President Rivlin’s suggestion that there is no place for such remarks in elections and the suggestions coming forth that Benjamin Netanyahu apologize to the Arab community for his racial and ethnic based comments should be appreciated and followed.
Even if PM Netanyahu meant his statement to be a reference to the voters for the opposition party, the Joint Arab List, said during the heat of election day as a way to urge his voters to turn out, many have taken it as a reference to all Arab voters and as encouragement for those harboring racial animosity to vote for him as a counter to them. Following a very ugly election, such an apology and sincere attempts to reach out to the Arab community in Israel are essential.
Democracies depend not just on the ability of every citizen to vote but on the understanding that elected representatives represent not just those citizens who voted in their favor, but that they represent every citizen. As members of a small minority community in America as are our brethren in other nations, we know well the importance of that principle and are very thankful for the consideration and respect of those who are not members of the Jewish community and may well not have been our choice to be our representatives. We know what it means to be a stranger.
The Jewish tradition teaches as two of its highest principles, “Remember that you were a stranger in Egypt” and “Love thy neighbor.” Those principles should be the basis for the post-election healing that must happen in Israel.