Minutes after being elected Israel's ninth president, Shimon Peres began receiving phone calls from world leaders and other well-wishers. The calls continued well into Thursday, as Peres visited the grave of his political mentor, prime minister David Ben-Gurion, at Kibbutz Sde Boker.
After a six-decade political career that has brought him into contact with much of the world's leadership, the 83-year-old Peres will from next month be filling the ceremonial role of president. "The president is a nonpolitical and nonpartisan figure," said Peres as he greeted supporters at Sde Boker, echoing the theme of his Knesset acceptance speech on Wednesday. "He represents unity and expels despair from our midst."
Speaking at Ben-Gurion's grave, Peres said the first prime minister was his "inspiration... In my eyes, he symbolizes the entire Jewish heritage, and I am deeply moved every time I come here," he said.
Among the congratulatory callers since he defeated the Likud's Reuven Rivlin and Labor's Colette Avital for the presidency were Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Juan Carlos of Spain and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Outgoing President Moshe Katsav, whose unexpected victory in the 2000 vote was one in a long series of defeats for Peres, also offered his good wishes.
The leadership of the World Zionist Organization also sent congratulations. And Leonard Nevzlin, the head of Beth Hatefutsoth-the Diaspora Museum (the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish People) in Ramat Aviv and president of the Russian Jewish Congress, urged Peres to focus his presidency on uniting Israel and the Diaspora."Peres could also fight the growing anti-Semitism in Western countries," Nevzlin said.
Peres will assume office on July 16, replacing Acting President Dalia Itzik and the suspended Katsav.