In accordance with Basic Law: the President of the State, Israel’s president is elected by the 120 Members of Knesset – not by the citizens of the state.
There are those who would like to change the way in which the president is elected, but this is not an issue to be discussed several months before Israel’s 10th president is to be chosen.
The job of the president in Israel is primarily representational and ceremonial. His main assignments are: signing all new laws, except for those that relate to his powers – but he does not have the right to refuse to sign a law; meeting the representatives of all the parliamentary groups after elections, and assigning the job of forming a new government to the head of the parliamentary group with the best chances of forming a coalition, which leaves him hardly any room for maneuver; receiving the resignation of a government, and in the event that new elections are not called, assigning the task of forming a new government to another candidate; receiving regular reports from the prime minister on government meetings; signing international treaties after they have been ratified by the Knesset; receiving the credentials of new foreign ambassadors; some formal functions related to the appointment and removal of court judges, and several other office-holders; and pardoning prisoners, or reducing or commuting their sentences.
Over the years there have been several proposals to increase the functions and powers of the president, but once again, this is not the time or place to discuss the options.
The seven-year term of office of the current president of Israel – Shimon Peres – expires in July, and sometime between the end of April and the end of June the Knesset will be called upon to elect a new president. There are usually two or three candidates, mostly serving or former MKs, from among whom the Knesset must elect the new president. The vote is secret, and the voting continues until one of the candidates receives an absolute majority.
We do not know as yet who the final candidates will be, but at the moment there are around a dozen names being bandied about. So far only one of the candidates – MK Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer from the Labor party – has collected the necessary 10 signatures of serving MKs in order to be approved as a candidate.
Ben-Eliezer is one of five personalities – all current or former MKs – who were either born in Muslim countries, or whose parents were born in Muslim countries, and who have declared that they are considering running for election, or have been proposed as candidates by others.
These include, in addition to Fuad, former MKs Dalia Itzik and David Levy, and current MKs Silvan Shalom (who is a minister) and Meir Sheetrit.
I must say that while there is nothing basically wrong with any of these figures, in my opinion none of them is an impressive personality, who could give the presidency some special added value, without diverging from the president’s true job, as our current president, Shimon Peres, has been doing.
My objection has nothing to do with these potential candidates’ origins. Back in the year 2000 I supported the candidacy of Moshe Katzav, since despite my own party affiliation, I did not think that Shimon Peres was the right candidate for the job. I thought it was time that Israel had a president “who comes from the people,” and who was unlikely to intervene in political issues which are outside the confines of the job.
Though as president Katzav engaged in some positive acts, worthy of the position, such as the convening of a serious conference to deal with the issue of possible changes in Israel’s regime, and its electoral system, we all know how his presidency ended.
We might, or course, end up with either Ben-Eliezer or Shalom as president – the former because he is parve enough not to raise any serious opposition, though his vicious and totally unjustified portrayal in the satirical program Eretz Nehederet on Channel 22 could well have a negative effect on his chances of being elected. The objection to Shalom, besides his rather grey personality, is inter alia his unduly pushy wife (many MKs feel that we’ve already got one pushy wife too many), but it has been suggested that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might support his candidacy because this will free a government position, which could be manipulated to Netanyahu’s advantage. However, Netanyahu hasn’t yet made his preference – if he has a preference – public.
Until well into the 18th Knesset it was believed that Reuven Rivlin, who was the Knesset’s Speaker for a second term, was Netanyahu’s candidate, and Rivlin did his very best, with no small measure of success, to act in a stately manner, to deal fairly and squarely with all the parliamentary groups in the Knesset, and to stand like a dam against the onslaught of those trying to the undermine rule of law, and the fragile Israeli democracy.
However, in the process of acting in this manner he managed to rub the prime minister the wrong way, and in the 19th Knesset was more or less sent to the doghouse.
I must say that Rivlin is my favorite candidate. I believe that the situation in which the president actively present to the world a political agenda (especially on the peace issue) which the world embraces warmly, but which does not represent the political reality in Israel, is nothing less than an act of fraud – and I say this even though ideologically I support Peres’ basic positions on the peace-making issue.
On this issue Rivlin represents completely opposite positions to those of Peres. However, as president he is unlikely to act on his political ideology, and to go by his performance as Speaker of the Knesset will do his utmost to be everyone’s president.
On the other hand, his involvement when he was Speaker of the Knesset in finding ways to get out of very complicated political mazes suggests that he will be extremely good at trying to unravel some of these mazes.
For example, it is believed that he could well decide to take under his auspices, with great enthusiasm, projects such as that of trying to work out some sort of consensus on the issue of Israel’s status as a “Jewish and Democratic state,” or a new religious status quo, that will facilitate the integration of the haredi community in the mainstream society in a more satisfactory manner than is currently the case.
Rivlin will certainly get his 10 signatures, but it is not clear whether he will manage to muster a majority, which largely depends on who else finally stands for election.
If Rivlin is not elected, I would be happy to see retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner as Israel’s 10th president.
She is certainly a serious, non-political candidate, who is unlikely to “put her foot in it,” as the other non-political potential candidate – Nobel Prize winner Professor Dan Shechtman – has already done, when he made an embarrassing statement about Mizrahi singers, and then tried to rectify the first boo-boo with a second one: an embarrassing attendance at a concert of singer Moshe Peretz.
Besides, Dorner is a self-made woman and, in my opinion, much more impressive than the other candidate named Dalia – Dalia Itzik, who was involved in a few minor scandals when she was Speaker of the 17th Knesset, and whose most memorable achievement as Speaker was cleaning up the Knesset building, and filling it with flower-pots and carpets.
So who will it be? The writer is a retired Knesset employee.