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Israel's Presidential Elections: The Candidates

The personal histories of the five remaining candidates for the presidency of Israel: Rivlin, Sheetrit, Itzik, Dorner and Shechtman.
By Gil Ronen and Ari Soffer
First Publish: 6/9/2014, 7:20 PM

Who will replace President Shimon Peres?
Who will replace President Shimon Peres?
Flash90

With less than 24 hours to go before Israel's new president is declared, Arutz Sheva provides a brief biography of each of the candidates still in the running for the largely symbolic - yet highly prestigious - post.

The vote will take place in the Knesset, not as part of a general election, with the candidate receiving an absolute majority of MKs' votes taking the spot. If no candidate receives an absolute majority the Knesset votes again in a run-off between the top two candidates.

MK Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin

Comfortable favorite: MK Reuven Rivlin Flash 90

76-year-old Reuven Rivlin, the leading candidate for the presidency, is a veteran member of Likud, whose family has very deep roots in Jerusalem. He a scion of the famous Rivlin clan and a descendant of the students of the famed Jewish scholar the Vilna Gaon.

Rivlin has made a previous attempt to win the post; he ran in the 2007 election for President as the Likud candidate, but withdrew after the first round of voting when it became clear that Kadima MK Shimon Peres had sufficiently broad support to inevitably win in a run-off. 

Born in Jerusalem, he received an LL.B. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked as a lawyer. He is famous as an avid supporter of the Beitar Yerushalayim soccer team - which traditionally has ties to the Likud - and is sometimes described as "The Most Seasoned Beitar fan,” having seen his first Beitar game in 1946, when he was seven years old.

He was first elected to the 12th Knesset in 1988, and served as Likud chairman from 1988 to 1993. He lost his seat in the 1992 elections, but returned to the Knesset following the 1996 elections.

Reelected in 1999, he was appointed Minister of Communications in March 2001, serving until February 2003, when he was elected Knesset Speaker following the 2003 elections. During his term as speaker, he was criticized by left-wing MKs and officials for breaking the tradition of political neutrality of the post. During the Disengagement Plan which saw thousands of Jews deported from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria, Rivlin was one of the most vocal critics of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who spearheaded the expulsion.

Rivlin also famously clashed publicly with then Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak - himself a notorious judicial activist - concerning the court's authority to declare Knesset legislation illegal.

Rivlin was reelected as speaker in 2009, and in June 2010 he again found himself in the center of a political controversy - but this time, the criticism came from the political Right, when he chose to ignore the advice of a committee that recommended the barring of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi for participating in the Gaza flotilla earlier that year. He also fought against the removal of the pension paid to ex-MK Azmi Bishara of Balad, who fled Israel after the Israel Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) found that he had assisted Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War against Israel.

These decisions were widely interpreted as stemming from his desire to court Arab MKs, in order to win their support in the race for the presidency, which he was known to have been eyeing for many years. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman recently publicly criticized Rivlin for those decisions, saying he would not support his candidacy for president as a result.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu famously refused to back Rivlin's candidacy until only relatively recently, when he finally declared his support - and likely cemented Rivlin's victory in tomorrow's vote.

Rivlin has consistently led popular opinion polls for the position of president - although it is MKs, not the public, who will actually decide that.

MK Meir Sheetrit

Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit Flash 90

MK Sheetrit (Hatnua), 66, was born in Ksar es Souk (now Errachidia), Morocco. His family immigrated to Israel in 1957. Sheetrit began his political career in 1974 as mayor of the southern city of Yavne, a position he held until 1987 - at 26, he was Israel's youngest mayor ever.

He was first elected to the Knesset in 1981 on the Likud list and was re-elected in 1984, but lost his seat in 1988. That year he was elected treasurer of the Jewish Agency and served in this position until 1992, when he returned to the Knesset.

Sheetrit has held an impressive array of ministerial positions. In 1998 he was appointed Minister of Finance, serving until the fall of Binyamin Netanyahu's first government in 1999. He returned to the cabinet in 2001 as Minister of Justice. After being re-elected in 2003, he was appointed Minister in the Ministry of Finance, where he worked closely with then Minister of Finance Netanyahu who was spearheading a sweeping privatization reform. He was appointed Minister of Transportation in 2004, and later served as Minister of Education, Culture and Sport until 2006.

In 2005 he left the Likud party and joined Ariel Sharon's new Kadima party, throwing his support behind the disastrous 2005 "Disengagement Plan" from Gaza and northern Samaria. He was re-elected in 2006 and appointed Minister of Housing and Construction, a post he held until July 2007, when he was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs.

On December of 2012, Sheetrit joined Tzipi Livni's party, Hatnuah. He is one of Israel's most seasoned and veteran politicians, yet his views are hard to define, ideologically.

Ex-MK Dalia Itzik

Former Kadima MK Dalia Itzik Flash 90

62-year-old Dalia Itzik's political career saw her rise through the ranks of the Labor party. Born in Jerusalem to a family of Iraqi Jews, she was first elected to the Knesset in 1992, and was first appointed as a minister in Ehud Barak's government, where she headed the Environment Ministry from 1999 until 2001, after which she became Minister of Industry and Trade, before finally leaving the cabinet in 2002.

Re-elected in 2003, Itzik served as Minister of Communications in 2005. In 2006 - like many of the other presidential candidates running tomorrow - she defected to Ariel Sharon's newly-formed Kadima party. Following the 2006 elections she became the Knesset's first female speaker.

Among her most memorable decisions as speaker was her strictly-enforced ban on the wearing of blue jeans or sandals in the Knesset, by staff and visitors alike - a somewhat unpopular attempt to instill a sense of formality in the notoriously informal Israeli legislature. Itzik's measures did not last long, however; they were reversed by her successor and presidential front-runner Reuven Rivlin as soon as she left office.

In January 2007, then-President Moshe Katzav took a three-month leave of absence, and later in the year resigned from office in a plea bargain over sex crime allegations. As speaker of the Knesset, Itzik was first in the line of succession, making her acting president - another first for an Israeli woman. She served as the official head of State until Shimon Peres formally took over in July of 2007.

Itzik retained her seat in the 2009 elections and later became the chairperson of the Kadima party. In the days leading up to the 2013 elections, however, polls showed Kadima either barely getting into the Knesset or not even passing the threshold (it eventually scraped through with a meager 2 seats - down from 29).

Realizing she would not be able to make it into the 19th Knesset, Itzik announced she was taking a break from politics and dropping out of the race.

She became embroiled in controversy in October 2009, when Channel Two reported that she spent NIS 75,000 of taxpayers' money on an unnecessary hotel upgrade during a 2006 four-night trip to Paris, France. During the trip, Itzik stayed in a €1,995-a-night suite at Hotel Le Bristol.

Former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner

Dalia Dorner Flash 90

Former Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner was born in Istanbul, Turkey, to which her family immigrated from the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The family immigrated once again in 1944, this time to Mandate Palestine.

Dorner is one of only two candidates who has never been a member of the Knesset.

She started studying law during her compulsory IDF service. Upon leaving the military, she joined the Israel Police for a period, and then re-enlisted as an IDF officer in the Military Advocate General, rising up through the ranks to the position of Chief Military Defense. In 1974 she was appointed as a judge on the Military Court of Appeals, with the rank of colonel. She was the first Israeli woman not serving in the Israeli Women's Corps to reach the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel.

After retiring from the IDF, Dorner became a District Court Judge, first in the Southern District and later in the Jerusalem District. She was one of the judges who famously convicted Nazi war criminal and death camp guard John Demjanjuk, sentencing him to death in 1988 - a decision which was eventually overturned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1993.

In April 1993, she was appointed a provisional Supreme Court Justice, and a year later this position was made permanent. In her position, Dorner was sometimes seen as an ardent advocate for left-wing and liberal causes, and also gained a reputation as being uncompromising towards white-collar crime.

In the famous "Danilowitz case", Dorner recognized the right of an El Al cabin attendant to receive a plane ticket for his homosexual partner. Dorner’s broad interpretation of free expression was illustrated in her ruling in the case of Kidum, a night school, which was permitted to use an advertising slogan with vulgar sexual connotations previously deemed unacceptable.

Toward the end of her career as a Justice she headed the Israeli Central Elections Committee.

Dorner retired from the Supreme Court in March of 2004. In August of 2006, she was appointed president of the Israeli Press Council. She has been conspicuously silent on the matter of the Israeli press corps' tendency to ignore Arab terrorism, especially against Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Prof. Dan Shechtman

Outsider: Professor Dan Shechtman Flash 90

The 73-year-old Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion, is the only candidate in the field who is not a professional public servant. In April, 1982, while on sabbatical at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., Shechtman discovered the icosahedral phase, which opened the new field of quasiperiodic crystals.

He was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the discovery of quasicrystals" and is one of six Israelis who have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

On January 17, 2014, Prof. Shechtman stated his intention to run for the Office of the President of the State of Israel. A short time later, he got into trouble when he said is a speech that Israel needs poets, artists and singers, and added that the singers “do not all have to be mizrachi (Sephardic).” This was taken as a slight to mizrachi Jews and forced Shechtman to issue a denial that he had meant any disparagement, and to declare that he listens to mizrachi music in his car.

Despite the gaffe, Shechtman is one of the most popular candidates in the eyes of the general public - second only to MK Reuven Rivlin. 

Yet that popularity has not turned Shechtman into a realistic candidate; the presidential "election" is made by MKs, not the general public.