Yitzhak Navon 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yitzhak Navon, who served as the nation’s fifth president, celebrates his 90th
birthday on Shabbat. According to the Hebrew calendar, Navon, who was born on
the first day of Nisan, turned 90 on Tuesday.
His Gregorian calendar
birthday is on April 9.
A multi-generational native son of Jerusalem
whose family has lived in the city for more than three centuries, Navon, who is
of distinguished Sephardi descent on both his father’s and his mother’s sides,
was born in 1921.
He can trace his ancestry back to 1492, when the Jews
were expelled from Spain, and has given expression to his Sephardi roots in his
writings and in his work as head of the National Authority for Ladino.
also chaired the committee of the public council that organized the program for
the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and was involved
in the reconciliation efforts between Spain and Israel, signing the first
cultural agreement between the two countries.
In the context of the 500th
anniversary, under the auspices of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Navon
starred in an eight-episode documentary Out of Spain 1492, in which he guided
viewers to historical sites deep into the heart of Spain, revealing what remains
of Jewish landmarks.
He has been a frequent guest at events hosted by a
series of Spanish ambassadors and will no doubt meet with Spanish Crown Prince
Felipe when the latter visits Israel next week within the framework of the 25th
anniversary celebrations of diplomatic ties between Spain and
President Shimon Peres, during his visit to Spain in February,
urged Prince Felipe of Asturias and Princess Letizia to follow the example set
by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who visited Israel years ago.
June 2003, then-foreign minister Ana Palacio took time out from the World
Economic Forum to come to Israel on behalf of King Juan Carlos to bestow a medal
on Navon in recognition of his contribution to Israel-Spanish relations and to
the revival of Ladino culture.
From 1946-1948, he headed the Hagana’s
Soon after the state came into being, he was sent to South
America as second secretary in Israel’s diplomatic mission to Argentina and
Following his return to Israel in 1951, he was appointed to
serve simultaneously as political secretary to both Moshe Sharett, who was then
foreign minister, and to then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
He was the
first president of Israel to pay an official visit to Egypt, where he impressed
his hosts with his fluent Arabic, and is the only president of Israel who
returned to politics after completing his tenure in the presidency.
was initially elected to the Knesset in 1965 and remained an MK till 1978,
serving in various capacities, including as deputy speaker and chairman of the
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
In 1972 he was elected to the
chairmanship of the Zionist General Council for a five-year stint.
days when Navon was president, the law permitted two five-year terms of office
instead of one seven-year term, as is presently the case.
extremely popular president, Navon opted not to run for a second term and
returned to the political arena, planning initially to run for the leadership of
the Labor Party. In the final analysis, he decided not to run against Peres, but
did run in the Knesset elections and then served for almost four years as deputy
prime minister and minister of education and culture in the national unity
Even after Labor left the government, Navon continued to
serve as education minister till 1990. After completing his term in the 12th
Knesset and overseeing the arrangements for events related to the 500th
anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Navon decided that he had
enough of active politics.