A Nobel Prize-winning chemist, a former Supreme Court judge and an IDF Major-General are among the six contestants vying to become Israel’s next president in elections due to be held on 10 June.
Two women and four men were last week named as the official candidates, having all received the minimum ten endorsements from current and serving politicians.
Their CVs will now be weighed by the 120 members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as they prepare to vote on Tuesday.
The victor will need an outright majority to succeed the national institution that is Shimon Peres, in what is still a largely ceremonial state role. If, after two ballots, there is still no one candidate with at least 61 votes, the third ballot requires only a simple majority – the equivalent of a penalty shoot-out.
Once confirmed, the winner will commence the seven-year fixed-term contract at the end of July, becoming the tenth President of Israel. It will finally let the globe-trotting Peres put his feet up, at the tender age of 90, and take his place alongside Chaim Weizmann, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Chaim Herzog on the list of past post-holders.
And whilst there is a clear favourite in the 2014 race (the right-winger Peres beat seven years ago) the result is no dead cert, and still worth a punt. Here, with help from BICOM, we outline who’s who and where the smart money is in the race to replace Shimon.
Despite the strong field, Peres’ former presidential rival Reuven ‘Rubi’ Rivlin was still being seen as the clear front-runner last week. A veteran Likud MK, Rivlin is the hawk to the Peres dove, and is firmly opposed to a two-state solution.
And whilst Rivlin has said he will leave the politics to the politicians, it is difficult to imagine him gracing the pro-peace international circuit in the same way as Shimon. Few could see him accepting an invitation from Pope Francis to join him and Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican to pray for peace, for example.
Like his great rival though, Rivlin is highly experienced. First elected to the Knesset in 1988, he served as a minister in 2001-2003 and later as Speaker from 2003-2006 and 2009-2013, standing unsuccessfully for President in between. Could this finally be his year? With hawks like Naftali Bennett in the ascendency, it just may be.
If anyone rewrites the script and denies the crowning of Rivlin, it could be left-leaning Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer. There are reasons to suspect an upset. Last year’s election delivered an (admittedly slender) left-liberal majority in the Knesset, so the numbers are on this experienced politician’s side.
A former Labour Party leader, Ben-Eliezer entered the Knesset 30 years ago after retiring from the IDF, and has a few diplomatic cards to play, not least his close ties to prickly Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Having a high-profile link may be useful at a time when the two countries are looking to rebuild a soured but important geo-strategic relationship.
Not only that, Likud MK Rivlin is rumoured to have fallen out with Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Bibi marshalling his Knesset troops to torpedo Rivlin’s bid. Former Major-General Ben-Eliezer is well-placed to take advantage.
Prof. Daniel Shechtman
If the Israeli people could vote, they may just vote for Dan Shechtman, a professor at Technion (Israeli Institute of Technology) whose public profile has soared since 2011, when he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. For a nation of recognised innovators, it was less Shechtman’s accolades than it was his story that most captured the public imagination. His discoveries, in the field of quasi-crystals, came after persisting with research and ideas most of his peers thought bonkers. After years in the scientific wilderness, he finally proved the doubters wrong and opened up a whole new branch of science in the process.
The ultimate outsider then, Shechtman would be the first ‘non-politician’ president since Ephraim Katzir in 1973, and having declared his candidacy in January, he has had plenty of time to plan his run for office. He’ll this is the year when the Knesset hands the keys to the kingdom over to a boffin for seven years’ safe keeping.
Born in Turkey 80 years ago, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dormer is – like Shechtman – another ‘non-politician’ candidate with an outside chance. A defender of human rights and gender equality, she also boasts 20 years’ unstinting defence of the IDF. Together, this comprises a record that will endear her to both sides of the divide, but her principal support base will come from those of a liberal persuasion.
Currently head of the Israeli Press Council, Dorner would be an opinionated president – having written extensively on pre-trial detention, affirmative action, proportionality, the protection of human dignity, medical ethics, and on child and parental rights. She would also be the country’s first female head of state. “I decided it was time for Israel to have a female president,” she said recently. “Even if I’m not chosen, it will open the door for future generations of candidates.”
Another career politician, Meir Sheetrit is a right-winger who bolstered his pro-peace credentials by defecting from Likud with Ariel Sharon in 2005 (to form the new centrist party Kadima) and for then working with Tzipi Livni to set up Hatnua in 2012.
An MK since 1981, Morocco-born Sheetrit has served under Benjamin Netanyahu, and has held numerous offices, including Minister of Finance, Minister of Justice and Minister of Transportation. Yet despite the rather grey CV, he is known to for indulging in the occasional act of naughtiness. In 2011, he was reprimanded by Speaker Rivlin (his presidential election rival) for spraying air-freshener in the parliament, to protest “the stench of bad politics”.
So, is he a dark horse? Not really. His party only has five MKs and it is only through family contacts in other parties that he scraped together the necessary ten signatures to run.
Another left-leaning politician, Dalia Itzik, 61, is from a different generation to many on the list, having first been elected to the Labour Party in 1992 before joining Ariel Sharon in Kadima in 2005. Itzik rose to the exalted position was Speaker of the Knesset in 2006, and for three years kept the seat warm for election favourite Rubi Rivlin.
She even assumed presidential duties for six months, following the suspension and resignation of Moshe Katzav in 2007, so unique of all the candidates, she can boast past experience in the role.
Born to a family of Iraqi Jews, she rose to become deputy mayor of Jerusalem, before going on to hold several ministerial portfolios,including environment, communications and trade. All this sounds good, but mud sticks, and many still remember an expenses scandal in 2006, when she spent NIS 75,000 of taxpayers’ money for a four-night stay in Paris, including spending almost $2,000 per night on accommodation.
Whoever the new president is, he/she will need to be whiter than white. Or at least whiter than that.