David Ben-Gurion would have been overjoyed to hear the news that Shimon Peres - a close and trusted protege - has been elected the ninth president of the State of Israel, said Yitzhak Navon, another Ben-Gurion protege who was the fifth president, on Wednesday.
Navon, 84, told The Jerusalem Post after Peres's election on that he was overjoyed by the results and was certain the vice premier would make an excellent president.
"I feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders," said Navon, who first met Peres 55 years ago when the future president was the 29-year-old director-general of the Defense Ministry and the past president was prime minister Ben-Gurion's personal secretary.
Seven years ago, Navon said, he had hoped that Peres would be elected president and was "shocked" when it was snatched away by Moshe Katsav, about whom Navon has consistently declined to comment.
Finally, Peres has won the position for which he is most suited and would rehabilitate the presidency, Navon said.
"No one can do it better than Shimon. Just his being elected has changed things tremendously. He is well known all around the world, experienced and respected," Navon added.
The scandals surrounding Beit Hanassi were "very difficult. I was ashamed, especially when I watched the foreign electronic media and saw them ridiculing Israel," because of the reports of Katsav's alleged crimes. "We are used to anti-Semitism; we have natural immunity to it, but being laughed at is very painful."
Asked whether Peres was too old for the job, Navon said his old friend was in very good physical and mental shape, and "nobody knows how much time he has. Rabbi Nahman of Breslav said a man should never be old. Peres learned it. He renews himself every time."
Those who have advocated the abolition of the office of president, said Navon, "are superficial and don't understand what the role encompasses. It can greatly unify the people and connect Israelis and the Diaspora with Israel," he suggested.
Navon does not think Peres will have any problem separating himself from politics. "He has already said the right thing - that he didn't see the presidency as a continuation of his roles in government and the Knesset. He will be above politics and represent everyone. One develops an instinct not to make political statements. He can do it. He is flexible."
Asked about the function of first lady, and about the fact that months ago, Sonia Peres was quoted as having told a journalist that she intends to continue living in their Ramat Aviv home rather than in Beit Hanassi if her husband were elected, Navon said this is not a problem.
"She shuns the spotlight, but she does a great deal quietly. There is no official job description for the wife of the president. Neither of them has to sleep in Beit Hanassi, which is an office with living quarters. Sonia will do good work. If she had been totally against the presidency, Shimon would not have run."
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