A majority of Israelis want to take the power to elect the state’s president away from the Knesset and give it to themselves, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
The monthly “Peace Index” poll, sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found that 59 percent of respondents would prefer that the president be elected by the public, 20% want him or her to be appointed by a public council made up of luminaries from various fields, and 16% think the Knesset should continue to choose the head of state. A majority or plurality of all political camps prefers election by the public, including 62% of the Right, 59% of the Center and 49% of the Left.
When asked what background they would prefer for the next president, whom the Knesset is set to choose this summer, 40% of Israeli Jews said he or she should come from the world of science and humanities, 30% said from politics, 15% from economics and business, and 9% think the president’s background does not matter.
Nobel Prize winning chemist Prof. Dan Shechtman, a presidential hopeful from outside the world of politics, welcomed the findings. “The results of the poll reinforce what we have heard from the public in recent weeks, and we hope that we can provide an adequate answer for what the public wants,” he said.
The survey of 609 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult Jewish population was taken last Tuesday and Wednesday.
The measurement error for a sample of this size is 4.5 percentage points.
Opponents of Shechtman in the Knesset accused him on Tuesday of being a closeted Leftist.
An MK from a right-wing party said that Shechtman had been quoted suggesting the formation of a shadow government to replace Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Such an accusation could harm the presidential campaign of the Nobel Prize winner, who is painting himself as a political outsider who is neutral on controversial issues. But Shechtman’s associates clarified that when he made the suggestion as the emcee of a panel in January 2013, he was referring to governments in general and not to Netanyahu’s in particular.
“He has very good relations with Netanyahu,” a source close to Shechtman said. “He did not criticize him or call for toppling him. He doesn’t think that’s his role, nor does not see himself as part of any political camp.”
Bayit Yehudi MK Zevulun Kalfa submitted a bill on Tuesday to abolish the presidency. He said the functions of the president should be distributed to the Foreign Ministry, the Knesset speaker and other government offices.
The President’s Residence has an annual budget of NIS 62 million. The budget has tripled over the past decade.
“The institution of the presidency is unnecessary and wasteful,” said Kalfa, who is a member of the Knesset Finance Committee.
“Canceling it could save taxpayers tens of millions of shekels annually for taxpayers. Those funds could do wonders if invested in education and welfare for the population’s weakest sectors.”