Israel's next election cycle will be for the President's Residence

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Could Netanyahu use the President’s Residence to escape prosecution?

REUVEN RIVLIN is sworn in as Israel’s 10th president on July 24, 2014, alongside then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and outgoing president Shimon Peres. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
REUVEN RIVLIN is sworn in as Israel’s 10th president on July 24, 2014, alongside then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and outgoing president Shimon Peres.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Six years ago this week, President Reuven Rivlin was elected Israel’s 10th president, following an election in the Knesset that was draining and dirty.
Rivlin and his staff marked the anniversary at the President’s Residence on Wednesday by watching an 11-second video of the celebration in his Knesset office when the results of the vote were announced.
The newly elected president and MKs who supported him shrieked joyfully, embraced and jumped up and down in exultation. Likud MKs Gideon Sa’ar and Haim Katz and then-Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich can be seen in the video.
They had plenty to celebrate after defeating MK Meir Sheetrit of former minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party by a vote of 63 to 53 in a runoff race, and beating former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner and Nobel Prize-winning Prof. Dan Shechtman in the first round of voting.
Rivlin had been the front-runner all along, but he could take nothing for granted, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman were both determined to defeat him.
Netanyahu even tried to persuade Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to move to Israel to take the post, in order to prevent Rivlin’s election. Wiesel was also approached by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to run in the 2007 race, when Shimon Peres defeated Rivlin, but a source who spoke to Wiesel said he was “very not interested in the position.”
AS A new election year begins, Netanyahu will once again play a major role. There are those who are speculating that he could decide to seek the post for himself, joining Peres as the only men who have been both prime minister and president.
Becoming president would automatically freeze Netanyahu’s criminal trial for the seven years he would be in office and provide a new official residence for him and his family.
To prevent a Netanyahu run for president, Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky submitted a bill last month that would prevent anyone under criminal indictment from seeking the post.
“Because the presidency is one of the most honorable symbols of the state, the president should be a role model for all citizens, especially elected officials,” Malinovsky wrote in the bill. “This bill would set that anyone with an indictment that would cause shame to the public and the presidency will not be seen as fit to fill the post.”
Only MKs in Malinovsky’s party were willing to co-sponsor the bill, which is unlikely to pass if it even makes it to the Knesset floor. But the very fact that it was submitted suggests that Netanyahu’s potential candidacy is being taken very seriously.
Another possibility that has been raised is for Netanyahu to run a candidate who would privately agree to pardon him for his alleged offenses. Whether or not it would be legal, no candidate would admit to making such a commitment.
Netanyahu’s spokesman declined to comment on the race for president in any way. A senior Likud figure said: “The reason it is too early to speculate on the race for president is that Bibi will change his mind 10 more times between now and the election.”
BY LAW, a new president must be elected between 30 and 90 days before the current president’s seven-year term ends on July 24. The Knesset speaker and his deputies set the date, which must be at least three weeks after the announcement of the date.
The deadline for any citizen to announce his or her candidacy is two weeks before the election. To run, a candidate must submit the signatures of 10 supporters among the 120 MKs. The speaker must announce the list of candidates at least a week before the election in the Knesset.
To win, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of 61 MKs in a secret ballot vote. If, in a first round of voting, no MK receives a majority, another round is held with the top two finishers from the first round participating in the runoff. A third round would be held if the two candidates finish in a tie.
Because the race is held by secret ballot, it is one of the few votes in the Knesset that does not go by party lines. In the 2000 election, in which Likud candidate Moshe Katsav defeated Peres, it was well known that then-prime minister Ehud Barak voted against Peres, even though they were both in the Labor Party at the time.
Netanyahu has never revealed his vote in the 2014 race, but Rivlin has said that he does not believe the prime minister cast a ballot for him.
A special session of the Knesset would be held to elect a president, if elections for the Knesset are taking place at the time of the vote, which is a possibility that cannot be ruled out in 2021, if tensions between the Likud and Blue and White escalate.
One potential candidate in the 2021 race said one of the reasons he has not started actively campaigning is that it is not clear yet whether the current Knesset will elect the next president.
Another candidate noted that 11 or 12 MKs are expected to be replaced next week, when the Expanded Norwegian Law is set to pass into law. The bill is expected to bring in three new MKs in Shas, two in the Likud, one or two in United Torah Judaism and five who could choose between Yesh Atid-Telem and Blue and White, in place of ministers and deputy ministers who will quit the Knesset.
Blue and White desperately wants to pass the bill into law as soon as possible because, of its 15 MKs, all but three are ministers. It could be that the moment the new MKs are sworn in, the race for president will begin in earnest.
UNLIKE IN the last two races for president, this time, there is no clear front-runner. But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, Labor MK Amir Peretz and Israel Prize-winning educator Miriam Peretz have all been talked about as potential candidates.
Edelstein was talked about as the front-runner until a few months ago. But he likely lost support from the Left and from Blue and White, due to his high-profile fight against the Supreme Court. He may have also lost support in his own Likud when he refused to endorse Netanyahu in his primary race for leader of the party.
He also is no longer Knesset speaker, which could hurt his chances, because the post is seen as statesmanlike, making it a good jumping-off point to run for president. Knesset speakers Itzik and Avraham Burg served as interim president when presidents Katsav and Ezer Weizman suspended themselves due to criminal investigations.
Itzik, who held the post for two weeks in July 2007, is the only woman to have served as president even in an interim capacity. When she went to the US during that time, deputy Knesset speaker Majallie Whbee (Kadima) technically became interim president while she was on the plane, making the Druze former MK the only non-Jew who has held the post.
Edelstein has the advantage of coming from the ruling party and his reputation as a man of principles and the last prisoner of Zion. He gained respect from refusing to admit to false drug charges in order to be released early from hard labor in Siberia, knowing that he was really in prison for the crime of teaching Hebrew.
Herzog and both potential candidates named Peretz have the disadvantage that they do not have a large faction behind them to support them. A source close to Amir Peretz denied that he had made a deal for the support of the 15 MKs in Blue and White.
But Herzog, whose father, Chaim Herzog, was the sixth president, could become an agreed upon candidate of multiple parties. Not being connected to any current party could end up being an advantage for Herzog, who is known for his ability to bring together different parties and sectors.
Miriam Peretz is an educator who lost two of her sons during their army service. One of her remaining sons is said to be pushing her candidacy.
She was the only candidate who agreed to speak on the record for this article. She said that after being raised in a transit camp in Beersheba by immigrants from Morocco who could neither read nor write, she was honored that she was even being mentioned as a possible candidate for president.
Like other potential candidates, she said she was not dealing with a possible run but instead was focusing on her current post. Peretz is a supervisor in the Education Ministry’s Society and Youth Authority, and speaks often to youth groups and Diaspora communities about Zionism and leadership.
She said people stop her on the street and tell her to run, but she tells them Israel has a president in Rivlin, who should be healthy and well.
“To think of me for the presidency is amazing and complimentary, as a simple person of the people who loves my homeland,” she said. “I am a believer, who lets God direct me to where I need to be.”


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