The Jerusalem Post
Rivlin’s Independence swan song
President hosts Independence Day ceremonies for final time
Independence Day is always an emotional time for President Reuven Rivlin, but rarely more so than this year, when it was his swan song for hosting two receptions that are traditionally within the president’s purview: the public recognition of 120 outstanding soldiers from all branches of the Israel Defense Forces, and a reception for the heads and military attaches of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel.
At the latter event, Rivlin warned that Iran is playing a dangerous game which could lead to a fire that may go out of control.
Responding to Iranian threats against Israel, Rivlin said: “We have fought and defeated terror. We will never allow anyone to hurt and weaken us.”
Rivlin also related to charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court and said it has not only a right to defend its citizens, but a duty.
In welcoming the new spirit of peace to the region, Rivlin expressed his pleasure at the presence of UAE Ambassador Mohamed al Khaja.
Due to the severe corona restrictions imposed on social gatherings last year, neither event was held. The 120 soldiers received their medals and scholarships, but not their public accolades.
While this year there was the traditional fly-over, and the 120 soldiers were there along with the IDF top brass and various medical personnel, parents and other relatives were not present and watched the event on television – which actually afforded a much better view of their outstanding soldier than if they were sitting in the garden at the back of the presidential compound.
There was no parade onto the stage, nor did the 120 soldiers sit on stage as in past years, but instead sat alongside each other in the audience.
As always, the outstanding soldiers included immigrants and volunteers. Due to various disabilities the volunteers would have ordinarily been exempted from the army, but they fought to be accepted and proved their mettle in areas where their disabilities were not impediments.
The immigrant soldiers came from France, Canada, Ukraine, Ethiopia, the US, Colombia and Russia. Among the outstanding female soldiers were several from combat units.
All the soldiers were masked, individually mounted the stage and saluted. Instead of shaking hands and presenting them with medals and scholarships, Rivlin bowed to each one and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi saluted them.
They went up in two separate groups of 60, and then returned to their seats. When Rivlin and Kohavi descended from the stage at the conclusion, they stood for a moment to face the soldiers and applaud them.
In his address, Rivlin allowed himself only the tiniest hint of politics. “You give me 120 reasons to be proud,” he said looking out at the outstanding soldiers. “You are the top of the top. Although it may occasionally seem that we have gone astray, we have not lost our direction; we have not lost our compass.”
Implying that the State of Israel is something that should not be taken for granted, Rivlin said that when he was born, a Jewish and democratic state was still a dream.
It was not until he was nine years old that the British flag was lowered and the Israeli flag hoisted in its stead.
Despite the siege of Jerusalem, he recalled, everyone was happy and proud, because the spirit of “defending our land was so strong.” He regarded the 120 outstanding soldiers as the carriers of that same spirit, thanking them for their dedication, the example they set, and the pride they bring to the nation in the knowledge that we can meet all challenges.
“You have no idea how much people, and I personally, need this,” he said.
Emphasizing the mantle of unity that cloaks all soldiers in the IDF regardless of where they come from or their socio-economic or religious background, Rivlin noted the opportunities available to every soldier, saying: “The IDF is the gateway to Israeli society and is open to all.”
Kohavi also touched on this theme, declaring that army service enables soldiers to realize their potential – those who might otherwise not have any other opportunity to do so – becoming leaders who contribute to Israel being the Start-Up Nation. “This is a strategic asset to the state,” he said.
He also referred to the positives and negatives in the digital revolution, and the platforms being used for hatred and incitement. While aiming for greater technological developments, “we must not allow technology to harm humanity,” said the chief of staff.
Speaking directly to Rivlin, Kohavi thanked him for making the IDF a central issue of his presidency, providing encouragement and boosting morale in difficult times.
“The IDF is an asset for which there is no alternative,” he said.