Because of its ability to bypass mainstream news agencies, Israel is big on social media. Not only is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, a number of his government's Ministers and their departments are as well. Israel's military branch, the IDF, regularly posts tweets, photos and reports. So too the Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat; the Israeli police force; and even Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.
Yesterday Israeli President Reuven Rivlin set a new standard for using the medium by hosting a question and answer session on Twitter. Fielding inquiries in Hebrew and English, the event took place under the Twitter hashtag, #AskRivlin. Replying to questions using text and short video clips, the experimental outreach was a qualified success. While most of the West was not at work, Rivlin's hashtag held the number one spot in Israel on Sunday morning.
He began the session with a personal welcome. "You are the voice of the people," he said, "and we can learn a lot from [you]. I am looking forward to taking your questions.”
Does Israel face international isolation, he was asked And what about relations with Israel's Arab neighbors?
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin answers a question during his live Q&A on Twitter on 25 September 2016
“Jews and Arabs are living in this tiny space of earth for many years," Rivlin responded. But "for the last 150 years" each side has shared a "tragedy." Neither side, he said, is "building confidence" with the other. Jews here need "confidence in the idea that [Arabs] recognize Israel, and we [Jews] have to understand that they are here."
On the other hand, he added, "we are not doomed to live together; we have never been doomed to live together. Our destiny is to live together."
Another question addressed the problem of refugees, especially those fleeing war zones in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Rivlin responded, “I am a Jew and according to the values I learned, refugees are not a problem; [but] they are a challenge to every country that has refugees coming to them. According to our values we have to find a way in order to help them.”
Asked about which US candidate he would prefer to win the current race for the office of President, Rivlin demurred. "The USA is Israel’s greatest friend and ally," he replied. "Any American president will carry this torch forward.”
What about India, wrote another participant. “The relationship between Israel and India is very important to both sides, it is especially important to Israel,” he answered. “We gained our independence at the same time when the British left [both of] us. ...We share a lot of interests," he added. "India is the future of the world, and I am looking forward to visiting [the country, as well as its] President and Prime Minister.”
Can Israel's various "tribes" be united, came another query. “I am very optimistic," Rivlin said. "We have no choice - we are joined and separate. We look forward to building the shared Israeli hope for all the people.”
Asked about the legacy of the Holocaust, and if the world had learned the lessons of the past, Rivlin answered, “We still face antisemitism - sometimes as anti-Zionism. The world knows the danger of racism and hatred, and must still stand up against it.”
In anticipation of the upcoming celebration of the Hebrew New Year, Rosh Hashanah, someone wondered what foods would be served in his home. “I grew up Ashkenazi with gefilte fish," Rivlin replied, smiling. "Now with 9 grandchildren, Moroccan, Yemenite, Ashkenazi, we have all the tastes of the Jewish people.” When asked if he preferred the chocolate or mocha version of Israel’s popular treat Krembo, he answered, “Sadly my diet means I can’t have either but to tell a secret... both!”
And during Sukkot (a.k.a., the Festival of Booths), will he once again offer an Open Sukkah at the President's Residence in Jerusalem? Indeed, he will, Rivlin replied. "And you are all invited.”
He concluded the event wishing all of his followers on Twitter, “Shana Tova, [a] happy New Year”.
This report by Brian Schrauger is based upon President Rivlin's Twitter feed and the press report by Jason Pearlman at http://www.president.gov.il/English/Presidential_Activities/Press_Releases/Pages/news_250916_06.aspx