Haaretz held its first Israel Conference on Democracy on Monday in Tel Aviv, featuring seminal political figures including President Reuven Rivlin, Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, former ambassador Dennis Ross and others.
The conference, sponsored by the New Israel Fund, the Begin Heritage Center, the Israel Democracy Institute and the ANU movement for social change, aims to promote public discourse on the state of democracy in Israel, and to stress its importance for the future of the State of Israel.
In an interview with Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, Rivlin told the conference that Israel may well find itself facing another election in the next year-and-a-half. He reiterated that he would call on the party with the biggest bloc support to form the next government after March 17.
He also criticized the right-wing over its stance that "a Jewish democratic state means a democratic state for Jews."
"This is not something I am willing to accept or live with," he said, adding that "peace [with Palestinians] will come only when we are willing to live together without threatening them or them threatening us. We need to build confidence," he said.
He also spoke out against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s peace plan, with envisions an exchange of territories: "Even if the right will come and say that Umm El Fahm was outside of the State of Israel’s borders, this would be impossible. A treaty will not alter the topography or the demography."
In his remarks to the conference, Herzog accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of destroying Israeli democracy. "The strength of Israel comes first and foremost from the strength of its democracy. In recent years, our democracy has turned into a punching bag by dangerous and extremist elements, paradoxically from within the cabinet and coalition; forces that fill public discourse with fear, hatred and discrimination."
"Once, these forces were on the margins of society. We didn’t take them seriously," Herzog added. "The person who turned them into legitimate allies, to partners who do whatever they want in the prime minister’s bureau is none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi is destroying democracy, tearing apart the state of Israel."
The conference is divided into four sessions, each dedicated to a core issue regarding the character of Israel: Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic; Is the Israeli right still liberal, what are the limits of freedom of speech and should that right have limits at all; and the independence of the Supreme Court.
The conference was boycotted by members of the right including Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, and Shas Chairman Arye Deri, due to the sponsoring of the conference by the New Israel Fund. Nevertheless, Haaretz expects a significant representation of the Israeli right, in order to ensure an in-depth and open discussion, as befits a conference dealing with democracy.