Outgoing President Shimon Peres.
Outgoing President Shimon Peres. Photo by Reuters
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President Shimon Peres is concluding a successful seven-year term, during which he rehabilitated the presidency from the nadir to which it fell under his predecessors, Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katsav. Peres’ success led to an unprecedented competition to succeed him, featuring a plethora of candidates; police investigations that led two MKs, Silvan Shalom and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, to withdraw from the race; and the embarrassment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to either postpone the vote or unearth a candidate of his own.

Click here to read about the five candidates in the presidential election.

Tomorrow’s election for the 10th Israeli president will herald a change in the presidency’s agenda – from foreign policy to domestic affairs. None of the candidates has the international standing and prestige of Peres, so they won’t be able to compete with Netanyahu in representing Israel abroad the way Peres has. Therefore, the new president should focus instead on the most vital domestic task: Rescuing democracy from the forces that threaten to destroy it in the name of nationalism, racism and persecution of minorities.

Two of the five candidates stand out for their steadfast commitment to democracy and human rights: MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner. For years, Rivlin has preached the need for cooperation between Jews and Arabs. And as Knesset speaker, he extended a hand to the Arab factions, in sharp contrast to his colleagues on the right. He opposed the wave of nationalist legislation in the previous Knesset, and paid for this stance in the Likud party primary. He has always maintained independent views, even in the face of strong prime ministers like Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, and that is an important trait for a president.

Dorner dealt with important public issues in her various judicial posts, especially her 11 years on the Supreme Court, during which she wrote important rulings on civil rights (like allowing women into air force pilot training, and extending rights to gay couples). Since retiring from the court, she has served in various public positions, including president of the Israel Press Council and chairwoman of a state commission of inquiry on assistance to Holocaust survivors.

Both candidates also have obvious weaknesses. Rivlin comes from Likud’s right flank; he opposed the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and backs the Jewish settlers in Hebron. His support for a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, in which Palestinians would be given citizenship, seems to be merely a gentler version of the annexation proposed by his right-wing colleagues.

Dorner’s problem is the opposite: As a judge and, before that, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer, she was forbidden to speak out on diplomatic issues, so her views are unknown. Her statement that the presidency is “an apolitical role” that shouldn’t engage in diplomacy attests to her lack of experience in politics.

Despite their weaknesses, however, their firm stands in favor of protecting democracy and human rights make these two the most suitable candidates for president.