President Reuven and his wife Nechama on Sunday evening hosted the 929’s 22nd Bible Study Group at Beit HaNasi, the official president’s residence in Jerusalem. 929 is an initiative for ongoing Bible study, with the objective of reading chapter a day, towards the completion of its reading in about three and a half years.
The evening’s discussions were entitled “The Power of Disagreement and the Culture of Discourse.” The president talked about a meeting he remembers well, “a monumental encounter between two giants that took place every week not far from here, at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.”
“Perhaps 500 people, myself included, crammed into a lecture theater that generally held 100 people every Wednesday to watch the best show in town, the great and mighty debate between Professor Eldad and Professor Leibowitz. What made us determined to crowd together to see two elderly Jews shout at each other? The reaction, the strong reaction, the fusion that happened when two such opposing and different elements are brought together with force. Nothing else could produce such inspiration,” he recalled. “Although they were both real hawks, when the argument between them became very heated, they never called the other ‘traitor’, God forbid.
“There is nothing more Jewish than pointed disagreement,” the president quipped. “And there is nothing more democratic than pointed disagreement. It is possible, important and perhaps even crucial to discuss and to insist on a culture of disagreement. But firstly, the disagreement itself is needed,” he explained.
However, “we are so sorely missing these encounters in the public sphere. I want to say this as we approach elections. I know well the fear of what might happen when two opposing elements come together in our small country. In the Israeli reality, it is very tempting to avoid real, painful, pointed encounters. It is tempting to create a false reality where we are all the same, to blur the edges, to melt everyone into a single bloc. Or, on the other hand, to present the world as if there is only black and white. No possibility to meet the other, to talk to the other. Us and them. In fact, both those pictures are distorted and they have disastrous potential. The realization that disagreement and discussion are options is, in fact, the way to recognize that there is an other, and that he or she is really, truly different from me,” Rivlin said.
The president continued by pointing out that “dealing with the reality of today’s Israel – security, political and civil – is a complex and delicate task. The political battlefield is over leadership, statesmanship and even over the ability to mediate and manage complexity, in our incredibly complicated and sensitive geopolitical reality and our civil reality, comprising groups that have very different outlooks and beliefs. If we build roads to bypass encountering the other, if we continue to ignore the power of disagreement, of what it can bring forth, we will miss out on the most important way of understanding ourselves.”
In conclusion, Rivlin stated that he believes “in us Israelis, and in our common sense. I believe in the strength of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and so I have no doubt that argument will flourish. That the discourse that has always been the secret of our success, the secret of our audacity, our creativity and our growth, will win. I have no doubt that when we embrace disagreement and when those who disagree know how to embrace, then we will know how to find the best solutions and the best compromises.”