National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the haredi newspaper Bamishpaha over the weekend that he should be the country's next president.
Ben-Eliezer made a point of not saying explicitly that he would seek the position in next July's vote in the Knesset, but he made it clear that he would be more likely to run if he had the support of haredi MKs against two candidates with strong haredi support, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.
"Over the years, I have established good relations with the haredi community," Ben-Eliezer said. "I think that now more than ever, I have the right qualities to fill the position and serve as president."
He noted that he was born in Iraq, like Shas's mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. President Moshe Katsav attracted the support from Shas that helped him defeat Shimon Peres in the last presidential race by emphasizing his Sephardi ethnicity and the fact that he is religiously observant.
Ben-Eliezer also noted that he was "born to a family of rabbis," putting himself on a par with Lau, who was born to a family of rabbis stretching back many generations and Rivlin, who boasts that he is a descendent of the the Vilna Gaon.
"As a Jew who is proud of his Judaism and his ethnicity and believes in a Jewish state, I believe I have the ability to give security to the people and give an expression to its Jewish identity," Ben-Eliezer said. "I will see whether I have a chance to win and only then would I happily submit my candidacy. Everything is written up there. If [God] wants me to serve as the next president of the state, I will fulfill the position happily."
Ben-Eliezer's spokeswoman said the interview was about security matters and that he did not initiate it because of the upcoming presidential race. She said that he had not begun lobbying efforts or campaigning, as Lau and Rivlin have.
Labor MK Colette Avital has also announced her intention to run.
MKs began speculating on the presidential race in June when an investigation was opened into allegations that Katsav sexually harassed former employees. If the investigation heats up, the presidential election could be moved up to the next session of the Knesset, which begins in October.