Politicos Indicate Preferred Presidential Candidates

In the wake of official police recommendations to indict President Moshe Katzav this week, political leaders have begun publicly discussing the next president of the State of Israel.

Contact Editor
Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, | updated: 18:24

Among the leading figures that have been mentioned as potential presidential candidates are Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi, and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and Minister Shimon Peres, who ran and lost to Katzav in the last presidential election. Labor party Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has stated that he too sees himself as a possible candidate for the post.

The Israeli president, largely a formal and ceremonial position, is elected by an absolute majority of the members of Knesset to a single seven-year term. President Katzav's term is to end in July 2007.

As he touched down in Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that he prefers that the next president not be associated with a particular political party.

"The timing of the question of a candidate seems to me a bit premature," Prime Minister Olmert prefaced his comments on the matter. "The president's term will end, at the latest, in July 2007, and it would not be respectful for the prime minister to discuss the issue before it is clear when Katzav will step down."

In May 2006, however, there were leaks to the press that aides to Prime Minister Olmert had begun campaigning behind the scenes on behalf of Rabbi Lau, whom Olmert reportedly saw as the most suitable candidate to replace President Katzav.

Member of Knesset Avigdor Yitzchaki (Kadima) told Channel 2 TV News on Monday night that he endorses Likud MK Reuven Rivlin's candidacy for president, responding to a question regarding a Kadima Party candidate. Yitzchaki stated that, to the best of his knowledge, the party does not have a candidate, even though potential candidate Minister Shimon Peres is a Kadima member.

Also refraining from endorsing a single candidate until President Katzav announces his plans is the National Union-National Religious Party Knesset faction. Saying that it was "too early for the faction to convene and determine," Knesset Member Rabbi Yitzchak Levy said that he sees both Rabbi Lau and MK Rivlin as worthy candidates.

In August 2006, the National Religious Party chairman, Shalom Jarby, announced that the party would support Rabbi Lau's election to the post. "There is no one more deserving than the former chief rabbi to serve right now as president of the state," Jarby said at the time.

Regarding the exposure of the details of the police investigation of President Katzav, MK Levy said that "the media played an extremely negative role." He noted that the press was filled with lurid, unnecessary and disrespectful details, much of which "we should not have been exposed to except at the end of the process, after it is known if there are charges filed or not."

After a lengthy investigation, initiated after President Katzav complained that he was the victim of attempted blackmail, police this week recommended to the State Prosecution to indict Katzav for sexual offenses, breach of trust and fraud. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is to decide within a month whether or not to file charges.

The previous president, Ezer Weizmann resigned his position after a police investigation of apparent financial misconduct. Weizmann resigned even though the attorney general did not press charges, primarily due to expired statutes of limitations, when serious ethical violations were cited.