"The presidency needs a facelift." So declared the woman who thinks she is the right person for the job at a luncheon meeting of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA) in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Labor MK Colette Avital, who formally announced her intention to run for office last month, said that if elected, she would invigorate the presidency and "make it more than a decoration."
"The presidency will become a relevant institution and not just receive ambassadors' credentials or do 'chug tanach' [bible study] or open the Sukkah once a year," said Avital, referring to the tradition of opening the president's residence to visitors during the festival of Sukkot.
Avital, a former diplomat who served as Israel's consul general in New York and Knesset member since 1999, said she would place social issues at the top of her agenda and make a genuine attempt at unifying different groups in Israeli society.
"I would try to create a sense of belonging between these groups, she said. "It's been attempted in the past, but it's more necessary now. We need a sense of continuity, of stability, especially with the frequent changes of government which have prevented policies from being carried through."
The first woman to run for the presidency, Avital said that making Israeli Arabs feel a part of Israeli society would also be a priority.
She added, "What better way to show that we don't only write laws to make women equal than electing a woman as president. Imagine the kind of message that would give to 51 percent of the population. Israel doesn't enjoy the best image in the world. Having a woman as president of Israel would change and soften that image."
Although the Labor faction has already approved Avital's candidacy and party leadership contender Ehud Barak has declared his support for her, some party members are backing Kadima candidate Shimon Peres, who is broadly viewed as having a better chance at being elected, as does Likud candidate Ruby Rivlin.
Avital, who is currently deputy speaker of the Knesset, said that both Moshe Katsav, who is facing rape and other serious charges, and his predecessor Ezer Weitzman had tarnished the presidency, leaving the institution looking "futile and superfluous."
"A good, imaginative presidency could change the mood of the country," she said, adding: "I'm clean. I'm not involved in any wheeling and dealing or business deals, corruption, money, whatever."
Avital's speech was warmly received by the 140-strong audience who attended the IBCA event.
In the question and answer session which followed her speech, one audience member said: "You've convinced us all. What can we do to help you get elected?"
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