This summer, when Israeli President Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin’s term as president comes to a close, the Knesset will convene to elect his successor. It appears likely that Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog will throw his hat in the ring, but another candidate has also popped up: Temple Mount activist and former Knesset member Yehuda Glick has announced that he will be making a run for the presidency.
Glick recently spoke to Israel Hayom in a phone interview.
Q: This is one of the hardest periods in the country’s history.
A: True, our solidarity has fallen apart. It pains me. We need to be one people and believe that everyone wishes the other well. I would expect that now would be a time when we would put everything aside and find what connects us. Instead, every day there are clashes—haredim and secular, anti-government vs. pro-Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] protesters, academia vs. the working class. There is condescension. If I look at you and think that you’re a baboon and I’m the light, we have a problem.
I decided that I would put myself forward as a candidate for the presidency. I want to be the next president of Israel. I feel that I have the ability. I don’t want to sound as if I’m a magician, but because I don’t feel superior to the people, I can do the job well.
The presidency requires a person who isn’t above the people, but comes from among them, from their power. Who will let the people express their opinions. A president with motivation, with the will to roll up his sleeves and visit the people and hear them. In Israel, there is a feeling that the presidency is given to veteran politicians as a sinecure. I don’t want a job, I don’t want the honor. I’m coming from a humble place. I want to help this people, fight the polarization and the divisive hatred. Bring back solidarity.
I feel close to all parts of Israeli society. When I sit with haredim, I feel at home. When I sit with left-wing intellectuals, I feel at home. In Dimona, in the settlements, or in Tel Aviv—I feel at home with everyone.
Q: How is this different from President Reuven Rivlin’s “tribal discourse”?
A: The president talks about four tribes—secular, religious, Arabs and haredim. I told him that in my opinion, he forgot two big tribes: traditional Jews and the Jews of the Diaspora. There are a lot of people who don’t belong to the tribes Rivlin mentioned. In Jerusalem, in Beersheva, in the development towns, in “the second Israel,” we can find the backbone of Israeli society. The traditional people. For example, Deputy Defense Minister Michael Biton, from Blue and White. He’s not religious, not secular, not haredi and not Arab. He’s traditional. That’s most of the people. There is also Diaspora Jewry, which has a special character, which doesn’t always line up with the four tribes he talked about.
Q: Why do you think he made that distinction?
A: I don’t want to judge him. He’s had a difficult year … He had good intentions, but at a time like this, the president should have been active in the field. There are people who are protesting and in pain, and there are people who think the protests should be stopped, and they’re in pain, too. I believe both sides. In my opinion, we need a president for whom the person in the role isn’t the center of attention—the people are. [The presidency] should be connected to religious and secular, Arabs and Jews, the self-employed and salaried workers, new immigrants and native-born Israelis, the elderly and the disabled.
Q: And Rivlin isn’t doing that?
A: He isn’t. We don’t see him out among the people. I don’t feel that right now, when the country is crying out, he’s there. If I become president, I’ll try not to make the mistakes Rubi did. I won’t try to prove that I’m more pro-Arab than the left, and I won’t try to prove that I’m a leftist. I’m not here to preach morality. I won’t tell the prime minister he’s wrong, and I won’t present myself as a better or more moral person than anyone else.
Q: The Knesset decides on the president. How will you secure a majority?
A: When I take on a mission, I ask myself three questions: Is there a need for it, can I do it and does it have a chance. I’m convinced that there is a need. Can I do it? I’ve entirely thrown myself into it now. Does it have a chance? If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be trying. It takes work. There’s not a single MK who won’t hear from me. The election will be held in about seven months, around May. Rubi Rivlin’s term ends in July. I’ve already met with 40 MKs from across the political spectrum. They didn’t all say they’d support me, but I got encouragement, both from people on the far right and the far left. Incidentally, many thought that this Knesset won’t vote on the president because we’re headed for a general election.
Q: You are facing tough competition from former Labor leader and now Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac “Bougie” Herzog.
A: He’s a good friend of mine and I value him. When I decided to take this route, he was one of the first people I called and told. He gave me his blessing. I promised him I would never say a bad word about him. Bougie is a good person who is doing God’s work in the Jewish Agency, it would be a shame for him to stop. I think I have the ability to connect with the people possibly better than he does. I’ll try to convince people I’m the better candidate.
Q: And if educator Miriam Peretz decides to run?
A: I admire her. I haven’t heard that she’s visiting the Knesset and meeting with people. Yes, she and Bougie are excellent people, but I think I have certain advantages that they don’t. On one hand, my ability to talk with people at their level, without posturing, and on the other, my ties to Diaspora Jewry and non-Jewish entities.
Q: If she runs, will you withdraw?
A: No, I’m here to run and win. I believe I’m the most fitting person for the role at this time.
Q: Is there any chance that Arabs will vote for you?
A: I’m not giving up on anybody. I’ll talk with everyone. Voting for the president is a secret ballot, there can be surprises.
Q: How can someone who works to bring Jews to the Temple Mount secure support from the Arabs?
A: Rubi Rivlin is a man who stands for the Land of Israel in its entirety, for a united Jerusalem. He positioned himself in a place of right-wing ideology, and there were still Arabs who voted for him. I can tell you that I got phone calls from Arab MKs who said they appreciated that I went to console the family of Iyad al-Halak [an autistic Arab youth who was shot and killed by a member of the Border Police].
I worked with Arabs in the Knesset in the fight against smoking. I wouldn’t have succeeded without them. I earned the trust of some of them. I know that there are those who staunchly oppose me, but there are others who can appreciate the place I’m coming from.
As president, I won’t be active on any political issue. I won’t intervene in politics, but I won’t obscure who I am. I won’t become a left-winger who supports the Palestinian Authority.
Q: How will you convince far-left MKs to vote for you?
A: I worked closely with [Meretz leader Tamar] Zandberg on the anti-smoking campaign. We also submitted a bill to ban weapons sales to countries that violate human rights. We have mutual appreciation for each other, as well as deep-seated disputes. But the president shouldn’t be political.
Q: What do you say to people who don’t think we need a president at all?
A: If the institution belongs to a president of [only] half the people, it is superfluous. There are enough disputes among the people. But if the institution is what I argue it is—a place for the people, a place for solidarity, for connection—then it is very much needed.
Q: Now they’ll start digging around in your past. Are you ready for that?
A: When I took on public service, I promised myself I would never let compliments go to my head, and I would never let criticism bring me down … I’ve been cursed at and slandered as a right-wing extremist who is leading us into World War III because of the Temple Mount, and that I’m a radical left-winger who cooperates with Arabs when I went to visit Iyad’s family. I’ve been called a heretical Reform Jew and a hater of the Jewish people for not attacking Reform Jews.
Q: What will they find on you?
A: I don’t have secrets. I’m an open person. Everything they’ve tried to throw at me is already well known. There was someone who complained that I had sexually harassed her, and the police sent her away and issued a statement that nothing had been found to justify an investigation.
Q: Some people will claim you’re a clown, not official enough for the role.
A: I am who I am, but I’ll act in accordance with the rules of the office. I won’t use the role for provocations. I won’t do anything that could cause divisions. Israel is important to me. Israeli society is important to me. I’ll conduct myself in the most respectful and respectable way possible.
I visited the Temple Mount for the first time in 1989. I was a student at the Har Etzion Yeshiva and I had the support of my rabbi, Yehuda Amital. In 2005, when I became director of the Temple Institute, the big battle started. We made a peaceful revolution, a revolution they said had no chance.
Until five years ago, every Jew who visited the Temple Mount was a victim of physical and verbal violence They would shout at anyone who crossed the compound, throw rocks, chairs, shoes at them. The police were afraid of confronting them. The Israel Police commissioner, the Jerusalem District police chief, and then-Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch all told me, “You’ll cause World War III.”
I worked intensively to get the government to have the [radical Islamist groups] Murabitun and Murabitat removed from the Mount. They were bullies who broke the law there. [Former] Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan deserves credit for spearheading the move to oust them, along with [former Defense Minister] Moshe Ya’alon.
Now visits to the Mount are calmer, and a lot more Jews are visiting. When I went in 1989, only 100 Jews a year would visit. In 2019 nearly 50,000 did. More tourists are going, too. In 2014 180,000 tourists visited the Mount. In 2019, it was 800,000.
Q: The Temple Mount is not the consensus you make it out to be. It’s a volatile place that can drag Israel into serious security situations.
A: When Herzl talked about Zionism, he was far from consensus. They thought he was putting the Jewish people at risk. When we started to visit the Mount, we were seen as a radical, belligerent curiosity. I saw it as a place of human rights and respect for every person. The peace deal with the United Arab Emirates talks about bringing more Muslims to the Temple Mount, and I was happy about that. Let Muslims and Christians come. The goal is for that place to be one of peace. A place for the faithful. It shouldn’t be a place of war, but rather a place that accepts everyone.
Q: You’ve been arrested there multiple times.
A: True. I was arrested when I prayed, when I recited the prayer for peace in Israel, when I walked too slowly, when Arabs beat me. There were plenty of cases when I was arrested, and the police had to pay me compensation for unjustified arrests.
Q: How can someone who’s been arrested serve as president?
A: Is Amir Haskel from the Balfour protests [against Netanyahu], who was arrested a month ago, a criminal? I worked to change the reality on the Temple Mount, and the police treated us offensively. I hope that those days are over. I never violated police instructions. I never broke the law. I fought legitimate battles to promote things I believed in. I’m a law-abiding person, even when it comes to the smallest things.
Q: What is your opinion of the anti-government protests?
A: I fully believe that they are there to express genuine pain, and that is their right. At the same time, they need to be aware of public health requirements and to the voices among them that are carrying on a violent, hate-filled, crude discourse. I don’t like crude discourse. I’m not sure that the people expressing themselves that way represent everyone there.
In general, public gatherings aren’t a good look right now. The solution that allows everyone to protest outside their homes is a respectable one. If they protest without violence, bullying and nastiness, it’s something we should welcome. I can also understand the people who oppose the protests out of public health concerns.
If I were the president, I’d sit down with the leaders of the Balfour protests, the pro-Bibi protesters and the police, and we’d work together to find a way for all of us to live in a pluralistic, democratic, healthy society. You need to earn the trust of all sides, allow people to voice opposition and pain, and also agree on a way to hold dialogue.
Q: And what about the flagrant public health violations in the haredi sector?
A: You need to be careful about generalizations. I get the impression that a big part of the haredi public follows the rules. I live in Jerusalem, walk around haredi neighborhoods, and I see that they are careful. When haredim disregard regulations, it’s very bad. It has to do with the lack of trust on their part. They are giving voice to past attacks, all sorts of incidents that were important to them when they were mocked. The mandatory conscription bill, the question about supermarkets operating on Shabbat. They lost faith in government institutions. You need to listen here, too. Sit with leaders of the community, give them space, heal the wound. In recent years, haredi society is integrating more. Criticism is permissible, but we need to be careful about generalizations and hatred.
Q: How do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu has been performing lately?
A: I’m one of those people who think Netanyahu’s good points far outweigh his bad ones, but still, I think that the results are that there’s a lot of bad feeling. Could he have done things differently? He himself said we came out of the first lockdown too quickly. Anyone who thinks that Netanyahu is only interested in himself is wrong. He truly cares about the Israeli people. Maybe he made mistakes. The biggest problem is that a government was formed where there is mutual distrust. You can’t work like that.
Q: You didn’t do too well in the Knesset.
A: The Knesset wasn’t the place for me. It’s a place where everyone tries to underscore the differences between everyone, say he’s different, and I came from a place of building bridges.
Q: What is your opinion of what is happening in the justice system, and criticism about it?
A: The moment there is a system that is convinced that it has all the truth and is immune to criticism, it’s very bad … On the other hand, I don’t think that because of faults in the legal system we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is a mitzvah to strengthen the justice system. They aren’t bad or evil people.