Olmert backs Peres as next president
Peres, Rivlin upset over earlier comment that candidate shouldn't be politician.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 18, 2006 10:42
3 minute read.
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(photo credit: Ori Porat)
Prime Minster Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that Vice Premier Shimon Peres would be an excellent candidate for the presidency. Olmert's statement came a day after he angered Peres when he said en route to Moscow that his ideal presidential candidate would be someone from outside the political arena.
Speaking to journalists at a briefing in Moscow, Olmert said that although it was still too early to say who should be the next president, "I can think of one person in the political establishment who is very appropriate, and his name is Shimon Peres."
Analysis: Why be president, anyway?
Olmert's associates said the statement did not necessarily mean that he would ask Peres to run as Kadima's presidential candidate and Peres's aides would not say whether he wanted the post. But Peres's angry reaction to Olmert's quote was a sign that Peres was waiting for the prime minister to ask him to run.
Sources close to Peres said he was less angered by what Olmert said and more by the way it was interpreted by the press to indicate that the prime minister considered all politicians unqualified to be president. He also was upset by a headline in Ma'ariv that Olmert intended to ask Nobel Prize winner and author Eli Wiesel to be Kadima's candidate.
"The press talks as if there is no one in politics with an international reputation," Peres told The Jerusalem Post in the Knesset cafeteria. "What, have I not written books and won a Nobel Prize? Do I not have international recognition?"
The front-running candidate for president, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, also was upset by the quote. Rivlin, who has been Olmert's nemesis for two decades, told the Post that he hoped the prime minister was not trying to malign the entire Knesset in an effort to stop him from winning the presidency.
"It is shameful and chutzpadik to say that anyone who has ever served in the Knesset should be disqualified from serving as president," Rivlin said. "I am trying to defend the Knesset and not myself. It could be that the prime minister is mistakenly following what he believes is popular."
A source who spoke recently to Wiesel said he was "very not interested in the position" and Olmert denied that he ever suggested Wiesel's name. But not before United Arab List MK Ahmed Tibi called Wiesel's potential candidacy "ridiculous and improper."
The candidacy of Wiesel, who lives in New York and is not an Israeli citizen, Tibi said, represented "one-dimensionalism bordering on hypocrisy."
"If Israel wants to give all its important positions to American celebrities, I recommend going all the way and bringing [former US President] Bill Clinton," Tibi said.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said he would be overjoyed if Wiesel moved to Israel, whether or not he ran for president. He said Wiesel's aliyah would make a major impact and encourage other Jews to follow.
Presidential candidate Colette Avital (Labor) said she respected Wiesel but that a president had to live in Israel and be connected to Israeli society. A former consul-general in New York, Avital said she has known Wiesel for years and he had never expressed a desire to move to Israel.
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau's decision to run for president will likely help Avital's candidacy, because Lau will take support away from Rivlin. National Religious Party head Zevulun Orlev said NRP MKs would switch their allegiance from Rivlin to Lau.
"Rabbi Lau is the flesh of the flesh of religious Zionism," Orlev said. "Rivlin is a terrific candidate, but Rabbi Lau is the best spokesman for the Jewish people."
Jerusalem Post Correspondent Herb Keinon contributed to this report from Moscow.