'Katsavgate' renews calls for female president

katsav speaking 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
katsav speaking 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The reports of a sexual harassment scandal surrounding President Moshe Katsav re-energized on Monday the campaign for the Knesset to elect as Katsav's successor a female president for the first time. Katsav's term in office is set to end in July 2007, but MKs and women's organizations have already started working to advance female candidates in case the expected police investigation into the incident forces Katsav to step down early. The Meretz faction discussed the matter at the Knesset on Monday and decided to promote female candidates without connection to the Katsav scandal. Meretz faction chair Zehava Gal-On said that her ideal candidate was former Meretz MK, current Hebrew University professor and Jerusalem Post columnist Naomi Chazan. Meretz's MKs said they were not enthusiastic about the expected candidacies of the Likud's Reuven Rivlin and Labor's Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. But the candidate Meretz would be most resistant to would be Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who a Meretz spokesman called "unstatesmanlike." Labor officials said they would try to advance Labor MK Colette Avital as a candidate. Avital said she was interested in the position. Na'amat women's organization president Talia Livni said she was not sure whether the scandal would affect a woman's chances of getting elected president. "If [the scandal] helps, we'll be happy, but we don't want to use this scandal as the reason to elect a woman president," Livni said. "The time is right for a female president. It would reflect the idea that a woman can fill any role [in society]." Livni wrote a letter a month ago to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the heads of all the major parties urging them to endorse a female presidential candidate, but she received no response from any of them. "We think that there are very good female candidates and this is why we decided to bring it up," Livni said. "We think that the president reflects what the state thinks about equality and the status of women, and that makes it all the more important that there is equal representation for women." Candidates whom Na'amat has suggested include Avital, Chazan, former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, Tel Aviv law professor Ruth Ben-Israel and Weizmann Institute of Science biochemistry professor Ruth Arnon. "It is a good idea that women's names go into the pool," Chazan said. "It's a sign of openness and progress that women's names are circulating for the most important and unifying position in the country." Supporters of Lau's candidacy said the Katsav scandal could also improve his chances because MKs could decide to seek a candidate with a pure reputation.