Israeli presidential race kicks off

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 31, 2014
Reuven Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin

Nine candidates are already setting out their campaigns for the presidential race with Shimon Peres scheduled to end his seven-year team in July.

The president of Israel is elected by the Knesset. All 11 presidents since the country’s foundation had been active in politics; nine of them were serving or former parliamentarians before their election.

Unsurprisingly, most of the current candidates are also MKs. The front-runners are former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom — both vying to be the Likud’s candidate — and former Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer from Labour.

Since the presidential election is secret and Likud and Labour are far from their peak strength, party loyalty will certainly not be the only consideration for the voting MKs. Candidates are working on their personal relationships with their colleagues.

Another serving MK considering running is former minister and Hatnuah member Meir Sheetrit, formerly of Likud and Kadimah.

It is not known whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will officially endorse a candidate. His choice could be one of the Likud MKs, but he may prefer Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky or former Foreign Minister David Levy, both no longer members of Knesset but with significant backing in the coalition.

Another ex-MK in the running is former Speaker Dalya Itzik (Kadimah and Labour) who is energetically lobbying her former colleagues to vote her in as Israel’s first female president.

Another woman being mentioned as a possible president is Adina Bar-Shalom, eldest daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, wife of a dayan and pioneer of higher education for Charedi women.

It is unclear whether the Charedi party founded by Rabbi Yosef, Shas, will endorse her as it has never fielded a female candidate.

The only non-political candidate currently in the running is Professor Dan Shechtman, the 2011 Nobel laureate in chemistry who announced two weeks ago that he would like to be president. The extent of his support, if any, in the Knesset is unknown.

Last updated: 9:45am, January 31 2014