Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich announced Monday that she would be voting for Likud MK Reuven Rivlin in the June 10 presidential election.
Yacimovich said she had chosen Rivlin “because he is worthy, because he is human, because he is honest and untarnished, because he is modest in his personal manner and truly statesmanlike in his thinking and behavior.”
She said he was an “exemplary democrat,” as he had proven to her over the years despite their often opposing left- and right-wing viewpoints.
Yacimovich said she had not faced criticism in her party for the decision, and had she remained Labor’s leader, she still would have endorsed Rivlin.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer’s campaign responded that he respected her decision.
The endorsement gave Rivlin a boost in a race in which he is already perceived as the front-runner.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid told his Yesh Atid faction on Monday that he really was not endorsing anyone in the race, despite rumors that he was working on behalf of former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.
“We will respect the decision of the legislators to make the vote secret,” Lapid said.
“There is no candidate we guaranteed the support of our faction, not in silence or with a wink. We’ll all vote how we see fit.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman also gave his MKs the right to vote their consciences. A source close to Itzik, who is expected to receive Liberman’s vote, said she was glad he had not publicly endorsed her, because it would have harmed her chances of receiving support from haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MKs.
Liberman accused Rivlin on Monday of opposing removing benefits from former MK Azmi Bishara – who was convicted of aiding Hezbollah – because he wanted votes from Arab MKs in his run for president.
All the candidates came to the Knesset in an effort to gain more votes. Former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner met Monday with the Balad and United Arab List factions to drum up support, while Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman met individually with several MKs, including Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu).
“Dorner is fighting with Ben-Eliezer to get into the second round of voting,” a source close to Dorner said.
“But her goal is not just to make it into the second round, but to win the presidency.”
Meanwhile, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon ruled Monday that if an MK were elected president, he or she would cease to be an MK immediately, not waiting until July 27, when the new president will be sworn in.
If Rivlin is elected, his replacement in the Knesset will be former MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, the next name on the Likud Beytenu list. If Ben-Eliezer is elected, the next name on the Labor list is Ma’aleh Gilboa Mayor Danny Atar. Should Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit prevail, former MK Yoel Hasson would replace him in the Knesset.
All three MKs have vowed to remain in the parliament if they lose the presidential election. But officials in the Knesset said it was possible that an MK or two who lost the vote would change their minds and retire from politics.
Daniel Clinton contributed to this report.