By Anat Shalev
JERUSALEM, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Israeli lawmakers elected Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin, a veteran politician from the Likud Party, on Tuesday to replace current Israeli President Shimon Peres on July 24 and take on the apolitical ceremonial role.
Born in 1939 to a family that has resided for generations in Jerusalem, Rivlin finished his military service at an intelligence unit and went to law school at Jerusalem's Hebrew University to become a lawyer.
The young man, who would go on to be identified as a moderate leader of the right-wing movement in Israel, adopted vegetarianism at an early age for conscientious reasons and was an avid fan of the local Beitar Jerusalem football team.
In 1978, Rivlin joined the Jerusalem city council, launching his public career. He was the chairman of Herut, a right-wing movement, which later merged with the Likud party in 1988, and then served as chairman of the Likud until 1993.
He joined the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in 1988 and continued to serve in each Knesset since, with the exception of the years between 1992 and 1996.
He served as communications minister in Ariel Sharon's government in 2001 and was assigned to be the Knesset speaker in 2003 and 2009, a role he is now most known for.
Rivlin had had his sights set on the presidency since at least 2007, when he challenged current President Peres, in the race to replace Moshe Katzav, the previous president who was forced to step down before his term amid sexual harassment and rape indictments.
The two rivals were set to face-off during the second round of voting, but Rivlin unexpectedly stepped down just before, giving an emotional announcement of his resignation in front of live cameras by saying "Long live the Israeli president, long live the state of Israel."
Despite his right-wing views, he is considered a moderate who advocates for democracy and a due legislative process. He is known to have made alliances with politicians all across the spectrum, among which includes members of the left-wing and Arab parties.
However, like many of his fellow right-wing politicians, Rivlin has objected to establishing a Palestinian state in the past and has supported hardline Jewish settlers amid Ariel Sharon's 2005 disengagement plan, which witnessed Israel withdrawing its forces and evacuating its settlements from the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, unlike most right-wing lawmakers, he supports extending civil rights for all residents of Israel, including the Palestinians.
Rivlin explained his position in 2010, saying he "would rather accept Palestinians as Israeli citizens then divide Israel and the West Bank in a future two-state solution."
Rivlin has had a rocky relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. During his time as the Knesset speaker, he blocked controversial and anti- democratic legislation pushed by the prime minister.
In an op-ed published on the Ha'aretz daily on Tuesday, Roy Peled, a former member of the left-wing Meretz party and assistant to ex-MK Haim Oron, explained why Rivlin is the right choice for the left wing as well as the right.
"First, the president of the country does not take part in orchestrating the diplomatic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Rivlin has proved in the past that he would stick by the democratic principles time and again if he is required to and respect any agreement reached," he wrote.
"Rivlin does not support the military occupation of millions in the West Bank territories but of an arrangement that would give them full civil rights as partners of the state, calling for a confederation with them. I don't agree with his position, but I don't find it morally wrong," he added.
Peled also reminded his readers that when extreme right-wing activists conducted a controversial march in the northern Arab town of Um el-Faham, Rivlin made his first visit as a Knesset speaker there against the activists and in solidarity with the citizens of the town.
Rivlin had fought extensively for the rights of Arab lawmakers and prevented the Knesset in 2010 from removing MK Haneen Zoabi ( Balad) from parliament following her participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla, aimed at breaking the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip enclave.
Her participation in the flotilla, which was raided by the Israeli navy resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, drew harsh criticism from the right-wing. He was praised by left- wing liberals in Israel and abroad for his courage in defending Israeli democracy.
In 2012, Rivlin commented on a wave of racist statements against Israel's Arab citizens by far-right lawmakers and said he feels "ashamed" and feels "the pain" of Arabs throughout Israel, against statements demonizing them as a "threat."
He received a special honor for his parliamentary efforts by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a nonprofit organization, that same year.