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Aug 27, 2006

Reformat the Presidency

President Moshe Katzav. When he narrowly defeated Shimon Peres in the elections for the Presidency of Israel nearly 7 years ago, people were ecstatic. Some people were simply ecstatic because they always like to see Shimon Peres lose an election he expects to win. Many were ecstatic simply because a Sephardic Jew won the presidency. They saw this as a turning point in Israeli society.

President Moshe Katzav. He is now under investigation for horrible crimes that include sexual molestation, possible rape, and accepting bribery for criminal pardons. It is hard to imagine he actually committed these crimes against women (I do not including the last one – anybody can take a bribe). While I am not saying I do not believe the claims, I am saying I have no opinion and therefore give him the benefit of the doubt until the investigation indicates one way or the other, and the police either serve him with an indictment or drop the case.

It is hard to believe because there has been no indication of anything of the sort of things that are claimed against him until now. President Moshe Katzav has been a very low key person and representative of Israel. He has stayed out of trouble (until now). He has not blown off his mouth, as did some of his predecessors, most notably Ezer Weizman. He has refrained from politicizing the presidency. While he has not had an exciting term as President, he had kept the position honorable.

Should he resign? I do not think so. Right now it is just an investigation. The woman has made a claim. She has to prove he did it. We cannot force officials to resign just because someone accuses them of something. If that were the case, anytime someone did not like a politician they would accuse them of a crime. The accusation would eventually go away but in the meantime the politician would have been forced to resign.

I think it would be worthy of him to take a temporary leave, so as not to hinder the investigation. Regardless of whether it is true or not, he right now cannot function as President with such claims over his head. He is taking a vacation this week and maybe that is good enough. I do not know if the vacation was already planned or if he scheduled it because of the investigation.

Now to talk about the presidency and not the person holding the position.

It is not really a surprise that the presidency is now afflicted with such scandal. The president of Israel is elected in a purely political fashion, despite the fact that the position is meant to be apolitical. The president is meant to unite the people. He is meant to represent Israel to the Jews in the Diaspora and to the nations of the world. He is there to fight anti-semitism and fight around the world for the rights of all Jews. He is meant to, “represent national values and norms that are not politically controversial” (excerpted from the website of the President). The election is not open to the public. Rather, the president is elected by an absolute majority in the Knesset. After weeks of campaigning and dealing among the Knesset members the winner of 61 or more Knesset votes in the election takes the position of President.

Generally, at least with the last few presidents, the parties have selected their candidate for presidency by looking among their own ranks for a politician whose career seems to be going nowhere. They look for a politician who for some reason they feel deserves better than what they got, should have advanced further than they did. Somebody who they think can somehow be non-controversial and serve honorably. After all the candidates are announced, it is mostly political dealing among parties that gets one guy elected over the other.

In my mind, the system is flawed. How can we expect politicians to suddenly be apolitical? How can we expect people who have spent their whole lives fighting in politics to suddenly be able to keep their mouths shut on political issues? To the credit of the Presidency, some presidents have served Israel honorably and faithfully. Other presidents were hated because of, what people considered, abusing the office to further political goals.

How can we take a Likudnik or a Labornik and expect him to be apolitical and scandal-free? We can just look around at the political scene today and see how many politicians are under investigation and realize the pool we are picking the president from is contaminated. Of course there are many politicians who are serving the country faithfully and honestly, but look how many are not.

If the position is meant to be non-political, we need to take the politics out of the position.

First, the election of the president should not have anything to do with the Knesset. It should either be controlled by some sort of committee (also not a good idea) or it should be open to the general public. Having political parties wheel and deal to get their guy elected is no way to keep politics out of the position. Give the power to the people.

Second, the candidates should not be selected by the political parties. The candidates should be selected by the people or by philanthropic organizations or put their own candidacies forth.

Third, and most important, the candidate should not be selected from the Knesset. We should not turn to a Member of Knesset and expect him to be apolitical and scandal-free and suddenly to represent all of Israel when until now he represented a narrow sector. We should look for the most moral and ethical people. We should look for people who have worked for the betterment of the Jewish Nation. We should look for people who have not been involved in politics. We should look for philosophers, engineers, doctors, rabbis, heads of humanitarian organizations, or wherever else we can find the highest caliber people. Wherever else we can find the most moral and ethical people. That is the type of person who needs to be running for the election of President of Israel.

If we keep taking our presidents from the same pot of people we have been taking until now, we will continue ending up with these types of situations. It is a no-brainer.

If the position is meant to be non-political, we need to take the politics out of the position.


  1. I'm with you on giving him the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. It just doesn't fit his public image. He doesn'thave an affair with every woman he meets, like Clinton did.

  2. the reports in the press that keep coming out are truly shocking. I hope they are not true. Not for Katzav's sake but just for the sake of common decency.


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