(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Acting President Dalia Itzik received the credentials of three new ambassadors Sunday, the second and last time in her capacity as acting president, then reviewed her temporary role in the office, arguing that "there would be a terrible void if we did away with the presidency."
Itzik admitted that before she had taken over as acting president, she had been among those who thought that the presidency was a superfluous institution, but once she realized how much the office contributes to bilateral relations with all the countries with which Israel has diplomatic ties and to Israel's relations with world Jewry, she changed her mind.
Itzik said there was potential for the next president to do much more than any of his or her predecessors had done in the past. Asked by reporters whether she had any regrets about leaving the presidency, she replied that she had known from the start that this was a temporary responsibility and had therefore not allowed herself to become too attached to the position. She did concede that she had thought about running for president in this week's elections, but once Shimon Peres made it clear that he was a candidate, she decided not to stand in his way. She was reluctant to entertain any thought that Peres might be defeated yet again.
Itzik said that she would have no problem handing over to whoever wins the presidential elections that will be held at the Knesset at noon on Wednesday. Contrary to popular belief, the newly elected president will not be installed at the beginning of August, as was Katsav, but in mid July to coincide with the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Av.
As examples of what she would have liked to do in the job, Itzik said that she would have wanted to invite all the Jewish Nobel Prize laureates around the globe to come to Israel for next year's celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the state. She would also have issued invitations to Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora to come on group leadership missions to Israel to accept the thanks of the president for their continued support.
Itzik said that in her meetings with Diaspora representatives, she saw how important being invited to Beit Hanassi was to them. "It's something that has a great deal of significance for them," she noted. Itzik also believes that more should be done to bring the younger generations from both Israel and abroad closer to Beit Hanassi through broader recognition of their activities and their contributions to Israeli and Jewish life.
Beit Hanassi director-general Avi Balashnikov, who took over from Moshe Goral at approximately the same time that Itzik took over from Katsav, said that he expected to wind up his duties on July 17, when the new president appoints another director-general. The president's political adviser Avi Granot said that he would remain on call until such time as the president finds a replacement. He also invited journalists to come to Helsinki in October, when as Israel's ambassador he presents his credentials to the president of Finland. Brig.-Gen. Shimon Hefetz, the president's aide de camp, expects to remain at his post under the new regime.
The three new ambassadors who presented their credentials to Itzik Sunday are Sam Azubuike Doda Olisa of Nigeria, Zhao Jun of China and Federico Salas Lotfe of Mexico.
In her private meeting with Olissa, Itzik raised the issue of the African Union, and the importance that Israel attaches to it, and asked Olissa to convey to Nigeria's newly elected President Umaru Ya'adua that Israel would like to have its status upgraded at the African Unit summit meeting in Accra, Ghana on July 15.
China's ambassador Zhao Jun came with a very large entourage that included Hebrew-speaking first secretary Ji Gang. Jun and Itzik discussed the constantly improving trade ties between China and Israel. The volume of trade between the two countries last year reached $1.88 billion. Zhao was optimistic that by 2010 the figure will reach $10b.