Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he would be endorsing Likud MK Reuven Rivlin in the June 10 presidential election.
Netanyahu's office said that he had called Rivlin telling him, "We have been through a lot together in our lifetimes. Some days were good, and some not so good, but I hope we will know better days."
The prime minister told Rivlin that he had waited to see the full list of official presidential candidates before making his final decision. "As the prime minister and the head of the Likud, I announce my support for you."
Rivlin thanked Netanyahu for supporting him in the presidential race.
Although Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would support whichever candidate the prime minister backs, Yisrael Beytenu will not be obligated to vote for Rivlin, because Netanyahu did not coordinate the endorsement with Liberman or tell him in advance, a source close to the Foreign Minister said.
Netanyahu's announcement came shortly after Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett gave Rivlin his support.
MK Reuven Rivlin is the best candidate for the Right, Bennett said Wednesday.
The Bayit Yehudi leader called his endorsement a Jerusalem Day
gift to Rivlin, who is strongly identified with the capital city.
"[Rivlin is] a Zionist with values and a good heart. I hope Israel will have a president like him," Bennett added.
Bennett endorsed Rivlin and said he will recommend that his party's 12 MKs do so, though he gave them freedom to vote how they wish in the secret-ballot election set for June 10.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, Pensioners' Affairs Minister Uri Orbach and MKs Motti Yogev, Orit Struck and Yoni Chetboun signed Rivlin's petition for candidacy, which means that at least half of the party supports the former Knesset speaker for the position.
A senior Bayit Yehudi source said most of the party's remaining MKs will probably vote for Rivlin, as well.
"One of the moments in which Rivlin really won me over was in the last election for president. When he lost, I saw his noble behavior," Bennett told The Jerusalem Post
Bennett also lauded Rivlin's modesty and concern for minorities and weaker sectors in society.
Shas leader Arye Deri said Tuesday that he intended to vote for Rivlin because he was seen as the anti-Netanyahu candidate.
Other haredi MKs who wanted to use the vote to express opposition to Netanyahu may choose a different candidate in the wake of Netanyahu's endorsement.
On Wednesday, Knesset Secretary Yardena Maller-Horowitz officially announced the six candidates for president - Rivlin, MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner - after checking that no MK endorsed two of them.
Netanyahu has had a contentious relationship with Rivlin for years, despite their both being part of the ruling Likud party.
Prior to his announcement on Wednesday, Netanyahu had considered a long list of potential candidates, excluding Rivlin – the only Likud figure in the race.
Supporters of Rivlin met with the prime minister in recent days in efforts to secure his endorsement.