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(photo credit: Sergey Bermeniev)
Over the last few weeks, as the sordid drama of the president has played out, I have taken an informal poll among my friends and neighbors: "Whom would you like to see as president of the State of Israel?"
The overwhelming answer has been: "I don't know, I just don't know." They rack their brains, but, alas, no single, outstanding figure comes to mind.
Yet despite our inability to specifically identify a worthy candidate, we do know the qualities we want that candidate to possess. We want him or her to be a person of great stature and renown, so as to proudly represent our nation in the international community. A person of deep integrity, to dispel the cloud that now hangs over the office - indeed, which hangs above our entire political high echelon - and to restore the trust of the people in those who would lead us. A person of good humor, compassionate, empathetic and wise, one who enjoys a deep appreciation of the history and tradition of the Jewish People, yet also has a clear vision of what our future ought to be.
Most of all, we need someone - as The Jerusalem Post rightly proclaimed in its recent editorial "Katsav must go" - who can unite our fragmented society: rich and poor, Left and Right, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. In short, someone non-partisan and non-threatening who can relate to society as a whole, and who every citizen can proudly call his own.
That person is clearly not Shimon Peres. Can he possibly relate to the Orthodox community, to the settlers or to the Sephardim? Does his name evoke respect and admiration from the average man on the street? Is he capable of turning all of us onto a new, more positive path, or is he just another "good old boy" being rewarded for years in the political system?
The fact that Peres and his advisers are deathly afraid of a secret ballot in the Knesset - where electors would be able to vote their conscience - is proof enough that he is not our man.
Nor would I want to see any career politician become president, nor anyone who chose not to serve in the IDF or does not encourage his sons to do so. The president cannot be too secular or too religious, too pedestrian or too aloof. He must be a true man - or woman - for all seasons.
It's a tall order, but, after all, this is the person who will be the figurehead of Israel, and, by extension, of the entire Jewish people for almost the next decade. It will be his mandate to restore our faith in ourselves and in our future.
WITH THAT in mind, I would like to suggest that we "draft" Elie Wiesel as our next president. Now that Natan Sharansky has declined to run, Wiesel is about the closest we can get to a bona-fide Jewish hero.
He enjoys worldwide acclaim as a thinker and speaker, is deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish people, and would bring a moral and intellectual brilliance to the office the like of which we have never seen before.
While the president is normally expected to be savvy in political matters - one of his primary tasks is to assist in the formation of a new government - it is precisely because Wiesel is not a politician that he could rise above the cynicism and disenchantment rampant in the electorate. He could shift the entire scope of the office from petty and narrow concerns to a global focus on what Israel can and should be.
True, Wiesel left Israel a long time ago, and seems more comfortable in the European and American milieu. But we have never looked down on imports or returnees. Stanley Fischer and the staff of Nefesh B'Nefesh are just the latest examples of new blood implementing new ideas for the benefit of all Israel.
Wiesel could cap a life of stellar achievements - from educating the world through the spoken and written word about the Shoah, to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 - by energizing the Jewish state and helping us reclaim our mission as a beacon of hope in a dark world.
Wiesel is not young - he is 79 years old. But he is five years younger than Peres, maintains a vibrant schedule and still has a lot to give and to teach us.
Convincing Wiesel to take the presidency would be no simple task. But we ought to send a determined delegation of Israeli leaders, headed by the prime minister, to tell him the three most effective words in the English language: We need you."
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.
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