(photo credit: KNESSET)
Former foreign minister David Levy decided against joining the crowded field of candidates in the June 10 presidential election Tuesday afternoon, hours ahead of the midnight deadline to enter the contest.
Levy made the decision because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided against backing him and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman could not bring Levy enough support to win. Netanyahu decided against fielding another candidate at the last moment, after failing to persuade Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, and Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubinstein to run.
"Unfortunately, from the conversations I had I understood that the wide consensus in the Knesset necessary for me to run was not there," Levy told reporters outside his home in Beit She'an. "It is not a personal disappointment for me."
But Likud sources said that in private conversations, Levy expressed frustration with Netanyahu for leading him to believe he would support him and then not coming through. Netanyahu's associates said it was very unlikely that he would publicly back any candidate in the race.
The six candidates who did join the race submitted the 10 endorsements needed for them to run to Edelstein on Tuesday. He is expected to formally publish the list of candidates and endorsements Wednesday after checking them.
The candidates all reflected emotionally on their personal background and expressed hope that they could use the presidency to unite the nation. Former Knesser Speaker Dalia Itzik was the only candidate who mentioned Diaspora Jews when she fielded her candidacy.
"I want to be president of the Jewish people: Jews abroad, and all the citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews," she said.
Itzik said that after nine male presidents, it was time for Israel to have its first female president. Israel has had one female prime minister, Golda Meir.
MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) was emotional as he presented his candidacy for the presidency seven years after losing a race to President Shimon Peres. He noted the polls that show that he is the favored candidate of the population in a race in which only Knesset members vote.
"I hope the public representatives who vote will select who the public wants," he said, vowing to make the president's residence a place where conflicts will be resolved.
Later in an Army Radio interview, Rivlin said he believes the Likud is united behind him, though he did not know what Netanyahu wants. He said he did not have a problem with the prime minister personally.
"I didn't fight with anyone so I'm not looking to reconcile with anyone," Rivlin said.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer emphasized his 60 years of public service - in the army, Knesset and the cabinet when he submitted his candidacy to Edelstein.
"I heard all the rumors and what people are saying behind my back, but I am sure that when the Knesset members vote they will remember my accomplishments, and I will win," he said.
Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit, former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner, and Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman said they expect to win despite impressions in the public that they are not front-runners.
"I have learned from experience that you have to wait for results," Sheetrit said. "You count ballots on the way out of the polls not the way in. If I go by the promises I've received I'll be president in one round."
As he was presented with endorsements from a record six presidential candidates on Tuesday, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said he expected the race "to be conducted from now on in a clean and proper manner."