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Promising to restore integrity to the tarnished presidency and to be an active voice for all citizens, Labor MK Colette Avital on Tuesday formally announced her candidacy for that office at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
"The whole institution of the presidency has suffered a very serious blow," Avital told The Jerusalem Post after the conference.
In light of the pending rape charges against President Moshe Katsav and corruption allegations against other officials, Avital said, "People have lost their faith in general with politicians."
She said, "The presidency has to be an institution which represents the soul of the people. It has to be a symbol that knows how to behave. What we need now is to totally change the image of the presidency; to bring to it cleanliness and professionalism and a sense of peace and harmony."
If elected, Avital said, she would be "breaking new ground" as the first woman to hold that office, which she believed is in need of a feminine touch.
To prove that the "time has come" for a woman president she presented journalists with a survey of 500 people over 18, showing that 68.7 percent would support such a move.
As a woman, Avital said, she would bring to the job not just reason but also compassion, understanding and the ability to listen.
Still, during the press conference, she proved that she had no problem switching into attack mode with respect to the other two candidates for the job, former Knesset speaker Likud MK Reuven Rivlin and Vice Premier Shimon Peres of Kadima. In 2000, Peres lost his bid for the position to Katsav. Peres has not formally announced his candidacy, but it is widely assumed that he will run.
In her speech, Avital called Rivlin a "right-wing extremist", and also made a number of veiled references against Peres.
At one point, she said, that the presidency was "not a consolation prize or a lifetime achievement award. For this, we have the Israel Prize and other awards."
"Unlike others, I don't need someone to convince me to take the position upon myself," Avital said. When asked by a reporter whether Peres deserved support from the Labor party, of which he had been a member for most of his life before he left for Kadima, she had a more direct and harsh response.
While she said she respected his achievements, she added, "If there are those who want to support someone who betrayed the party and stabbed us in the back, I am sorry for them."
Avital dismissed media reports that she lacked the confidence of her party and said that, as far as she knew, many of the 19 Labor law makers stood behind her. Known opponents within her party are MK Shelly Yacimovich and MK Yoram Marciano.
When the matter is brought to a vote in the Knesset in May, Avital will need approval from a majority of the parliament to secure the presidency. No exact election date has been set.
To show that she had support beyond her party lines, Avital was flanked at the press conference by Kadima MK Marina Solodkin and former Meretz MK Shulamit Aloni.
In speaking to reporters Tuesday, Avital reminded them that she was a child survivor of the Holocaust and as such she had would continue to fight for the rights of other survivors. She also spoke of her experiences in the army and the foreign ministry. Avital said that she would bring all these experiences to bear in her fight for the rule of law, better relations between Arabs and Jews and the secular and the religious, human rights and the restoration of equality for all citizens.