“I Believe That Our Responsibility is to Keep the Road for Peace Open”

An Interview with Tzipi Livni, former Vice Prime Minister of Israel
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaks during a protest against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judiciary overhaul in front of the Israeli prime ministry office in Jerusalem

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaks during a protest against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judiciary overhaul in front of the Israeli prime ministry office in Jerusalem.

© picture alliance / AA | Mostafa Alkharouf

Shortly before FNF’s 40th anniversary in Israel, we managed to have an interview with Ms. Tzipi Livni. Being a former Vice Prime Minister, a former Foreign Minister and a former Justice Minister, we were very interested in her take on the current situation in Israel. We asked her a few questions, and this is what she had to say:

FNF: We as liberals, try to emphasize the importance of protecting civil liberties and the need to limit the government’s centralized control, to safeguard individual freedoms. Do you think the anti-legal reform protests are a sign that the Israeli public shares these views, or merely a coincidence?
Tzipi Livni: Of course! I believe that a new Liberal Democratic camp is being born in Israel. The dramatic brutal manner that the Israeli Government is pushing what they call “judicial reforms” has been a wakeup call for many Israelis. Until that point, most Israelis thought that individual rights and freedoms will be kept forever and that any coalition will be responsible enough to act according to democratic checks and balances. We all discovered that things we thought are obvious are not obvious anymore, and we understand that we need to fight for our values, and this is exactly what so many people are doing in an extremely impressive way.

Populist movements and nationalist ideologies have gained traction in various parts of the world, including Israel. How do you view the rise of nationalist sentiment in Israeli politics, and what measures do you propose to address the concerns underlying this trend?
In Hebrew we have two different words for a patriot who loves, supports and defends his country and a nationalist who believes that his country is above others and acts accordingly. Unfortunately, we see more and more nationalists lately. For many years Israel has been facing security threats. As is happening also in other countries, populist leaders are exploiting this situation, turning fear into hate and convincing the public that only a “strong leader“ can save them. The populists claim others are too weak or care too much about the human rights of the enemy at the expense of national safety and wellbeing. I believe that the current government was elected due to the triumph of this sentiment, but they cannot deliver the security they promised. On the other side the demonstrators for democracy show that they are no less patriotic, and I hope that a nationwide understanding is starting to sink in, and that this is the beginning of a change for the better.

Recently, we have seen many cases of ministers and members of the government hounded by protesters wherever they go. Some of these protesters also interrupt lectures and panels, held by government members and de facto lead to their cancellation. Should we as liberals condone this kind of activity, despite the obvious infringement of free speech? Or do you see this as a legitimate form of protest?
More than legitimate. I understand the concern, but it is necessary when freedom of speech and other rights are at stake. These demonstrations are very effective.      

Israel’s political landscape is possibly more polarized today than ever. Do you think these deep political divisions in Israeli society can be bridged? How can we create an atmosphere that fosters more unity and cooperation?
Yes, I believe we can unite under a shared vision and I think we already have a shared vision that was agreed on by the Jewish leadership and all political parties when Israel was born. It is written in the Declaration of Independence, which is our birth certificate. This is the essence of our national identity and the closest document we have to a constitution. The declaration states that Israel is the nation-state for the Jewish people, with equal rights to all its inhabitants without discrimination. Instead of reinventing the wheel we should go back to our sources, this is our true common ground.

As an advocate for a two-state solution, what steps do you believe can still be taken to create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
I believe that our responsibility now is to keep the road for peace open and avoid doing things that will make it more difficult or impossible to achieve peace in the future. That is why I am against any form of annexation, de jure or de facto. This of course also means I am against the expansion of the settlements.         

Many liberals emphasize the importance of human rights and social justice. How can Israeli liberals align with these principles, particularly in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
I, like many Israelis, believe in human rights and in social justice within Israel and hope to find a way to live in peace with the Palestinians. We have to find a way for them to live in peace freely in their own country.

The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel has significant influence on politics and policymaking. How do you view the role of religious parties in the Israeli political system, and how can their interests be balanced with the values of a more liberal and pluralistic society?
The ultra-orthodox parties are abusing their political power. I believe that we should not give the monopoly of the nature of Israel as a Jewish state to the religious establishment or specific religious parties. In a democracy like Israel every citizen should have equal rights and every community’s rights must be respected. Other interests like exemption from serving in the army or forcing others to live according to religious rules cannot be legitimate and will never be accepted.     

How do you believe your work in politics, particularly as a woman in leadership positions, has contributed to advancing women's rights in Israeli society? Why don’t we see more women in leadership positions?     
I believe that it is time for us women to move on from the “MeToo” victim identity to a “Me Too in Power” mentality. Unfortunately, due to the current coalition of religious and conservative parties we see a regression in the number of women in the government. Personally, I always feel touched when young women are telling me that I gave them the courage to implement their dreams and I encourage them to continue fighting for it.

The question of Israeli identity and the relationship between Jewish and democratic values is an ongoing debate. How do you define the balance between Israel's Jewish character and its commitment to democratic principles, and how can this balance be maintained in a way that respects the rights of all citizens?
I believe that the nature of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state does not contradict itself. Being a Jewish state means that this is the place where the Jewish people can express their right for self-determination and as written in the Declaration of Independence every citizen can have equal rights without discrimination. I believe that Judaism also means values like “love thy neighbor“, meaning to love and accept the foreigner. Therefore, these values can and should live in harmony with democratic values. There is no contradiction.