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Although the fifth president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon, has declined to comment on the eighth man to hold the office, President Moshe Katsav, a veteran Beit Hanassi staffer says the institution deserves and needs to carry on "if the right person is president."
Dr. Ami Gluska, a military historian at the Hebrew University and Ashkelon College, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Wednesday night that a president of Israel must not be someone whose career has been limited to politics. "In recent years, it has become a payoff for politicians," he said.
Gluska was Navon's bureau chief for three years and for the late Chaim Herzog, who succeeded Navon, for the five years of Herzog's first term.
"I did a study of presidencies and compared those of Israel with those of other countries that have a prime minister and a parliamentary system. In all of them, the president has no special authority, but he can have an important impact by his moral stature, his personality, the depth of his experience, the way he communicates with varied populations...As far as I know, Navon agrees with me that the presidency should continue to exist if the right person occupies it."
Gluska said that even though 30 years have passed, he recalls the Navon presidency as the "era of glory" for the institution, and that in such a fractured society - Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, rich and poor - an esteemed president can be the glue that holds all the parts together.
When Navon visited people from different sectors in Israel and abroad, Gluska said, "the atmosphere was electrified. He has such depth and talents and the ability to speak to everyone on every level and a great variety of subjects."
To have an impact in unifying Israeli society and the Jewish people, Gluska continued, the president must have a multidisciplinary background rather than one-dimensional political experience. A woman can do as good a job as a man as president, he said. "It doesn't matter if the president is male or female; one has to have personality, background and real depth. Yitzhak Navon had it as president. Herzog also had many positive characteristics with a strong record in the military and diplomacy," he added.
Asked whom he would endorse, Gluska offered the name of Professor Amnon Rubinstein, former MK and current president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. "I would recommend him enthusiastically."
As for octogenarian Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Gluska said Peres's weakness was his age, "even though he has the energy and outlook of a young man. If it has to be a political personality, Peres is the best of them." Gluska does not support the candidacy of Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, he said, because Rivlin's past was limited to the political sphere.
Gluska also said that former chief rabbi of Israel and second-time Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau should be ruled out, as he would not shake the hands of women, would exit if a woman sang and would not visit a Conservative or Reform synagogue, which constitute the majority of Jewish congregations in the Diaspora.
"Being involved with Jews from abroad is a major task of the president. I don't know how Rabbi Lau could fulfill his obligations," he said. A president's spouse is not an important consideration when a president is chosen, as "a spouse," noted Gluska, "is not chosen and doesn't have a formal role; they come as a package deal."