Both of the top competitors of front-running candidate MK Reuven Rivlin in the June 10 presidential race received disappointing news Sunday that could harm their chances in the election.
Rivlin, one of six candidates, has the backing of more than 40 MKs, mostly from Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former MK and Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik are said to have the best chance of reaching the second round, where one would go head-to-head with Rivlin.
But Ben-Eliezer received bad news from Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his strategist, Uri Shani. Both told him in separate conversations that Lapid would not remove a ban for Yesh Atid’s 19 MKs on voting for him.
Lapid issued the ban because Ben- Eliezer had joined his own faction in boycotting a vote on Yesh Atid’s bill on conscripting yeshiva students. The veto is also seen as a step by Lapid to avoid giving a boost to Labor, which competes with his party for votes.
Ben-Eliezer’s office declined to confirm a Channel 2 report on the meeting with Lapid, but the finance minister’s associates said it was correct.
Itzik received disappointing news when Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman declined to enforce faction discipline although he himself was expected to back her candidacy. Liberman told reporters outside Sunday’s cabinet meeting that his faction would meet on Monday to decide how to approach the election.
“I’ve turned the page and I don’t intend to deal with the presidency for another second,” he said. “I know who I’m not voting for, but I still haven’t decided who I am voting for.”
Itzik suffered an additional setback when Rivlin, Ben-Eliezer and Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit, the three MKs in the race, declined to reach a gentleman’s agreement in which they would sit out the first round of voting to be fair to the three non-MK candidates who do not have a vote. Itzik, Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner have complained that MK candidates have an unfair advantage.
Itzik wrote a letter to all 120 MKs Sunday in which she vowed to use the presidency to bridge the gaps in Israeli society.
She also said the Knesset should elect her because she is a woman.
“In its 66th year, after nine male presidents, Israel is more ready than ever for a female president,” Itzik said. “Let’s present a sharp and clear message to the citizens of Israel and the entire world that in Israel in 2014, any post, even head of state, is open to everyone, regardless of gender.”