Changing the presidency

The continued concentration of power in Israel’s executive branch is not healthy for Israel’s democratic character.

President Shimon Peres on state visit to Austria, March 31 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres on state visit to Austria, March 31
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
It has become fashionable in political circles, even up to the the level of the prime minister, to call for the dissolution of the institution of the presidency of the State of Israel. The prime minister continues to say that there are no qualified candidates, so that it is better to shutter the office as Shimon Peres exits.
The real story is that there are plenty of qualified candidates: two former speakers of the Knesset, a Nobel Prize laureate, a former High Court judge, a solar industrialist and a smattering of long-time politicians.
What is true is that Shimon Peres has redeemed the institution of the presidency and there are no more leaders of his stature or generation in Jewish life, other than Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky.
So it is true that whoever has the privilege to be elected by the Knesset as the next president, she or he will have large shoes to fill and will appear inadequate at home and abroad. This is why we need to change the model of the presidency, from a retirement home for aging politicians to an institution devoted to a just society at home and ramping up Israel’s “soft power” abroad.
The continued concentration of power in Israel’s executive branch is not healthy for Israel’s democratic character.
Just as our ancient kings had prophets to balance them out, prime ministers should have presidents of high moral standing providing that balance. In private.
I am against the notion of a president undermining government policy on anything to do with the national boundaries, since that is what Knesset elections are about. However, who is going to rise above politics and speak out for the poor, the environment, our minorities, the moral character of the state, and express both the grief and joy of its diverse population as a way of affirming the legal equality of the diverse population? Not a prime minister.
Since we have historically been surrounded by enemies, Israel has correctly focused on building “hard power” – the kind represented by planes, tanks, missiles and soldiers. Today, as we are losing the hasbara (public diplomacy) and BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) battles country by country, the president should be the leader in building soft power in the world to bolster our diplomatic standing as well as our brand equity.
There are over two billion people on the planet without safe drinking water, without food security and without affordable electricity. Israel has the potential to be a super-power of goodness in the world, since we excel at water technologies, agriculture and green energy. A quarter of the votes in the United Nations, for example, are island nations that burn dirty and expensive diesel for their power needs, when Israeli know-how could transform their energy to cheaper and clearer renewables.
And UN votes. Encouraging our industries of goodness as part of a president’s mandate to help Israel win over hearts and minds worldwide is what is needed, and would be appreciated by billions.
The growing BDS movement requires not only the traditional responses of a foreign ministry, but of a president who has a track record of bringing international investment into the Israeli economy and can speak the language of business people, sovereign wealth funds and impact investors. These investments are needed not only for the hi-tech sector but are the only real way to address the growing gap between rich and poor and to provide employment to our most vulnerable or least productive members of our society.
And let’s not forget about world Jewry.
We learned during the Women of the Wall prayer services, and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) counter-reaction, that what happens here in Israel with regard to religion reverberates around the world and can continue to alienate American and other Jewish communities.
By lacking a president who can affirm all the streams of Judaism in Jewish life, we cut down a living bridge between Israel and Jewish communities.
Conversely, a president who can celebrate religious diversity and inclusion in Bet Hanasi will energize world Jewry’s connection to the Jewish state.
And then there is the United States.
The strategic relationship between Israel and what is still the world’s most important power is an asset too valuable to leave to only the politicians to nurture. A president should be able to transcend a bad political period that might come about via a breakdown with the Palestinians or an attack on Iran, and be able to speak to the American people, press, Congress and administration about enduring values and shared history.
A prime minister who seeks to abolish the presidency is simply a prime minister who has not met with the non-political candidates.
The writer is an independent candidate for the President of Israel. Named by CNN as one of the six leading Green Pioneers worldwide, Abramowitz serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, an international solar field development firm. Twitter: @ Kaptainsunshine