Despite Netanyahu’s Efforts, Race for President Likely to Begin Monday

Likud sources say Sara Netanyahu is behind the move to postpone the vote because of her animosity toward Reuven Rivlin, who aims to run.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: David Bachar
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strenuous efforts to delay the election for president, the campaign for the office is expected to officially begin Monday. Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein is due to meet this week with all those who have declared their candidacy before determining the date of the voting.

Edelstein does not intend to wait for Netanyahu’s bureau to weigh in again on the issue and is expected to announce the date, likely to fall in early June, by next week. MKs said his decision makes it clear that the coalition has decided to disregard Netanyahu’s wishes and move forward with the presidential election.

The word from Edelstein followed heated protests in the Knesset by supporters of various presidential candidates. The Labor Party vehemently opposed the move to delay the vote, calling Netanyahu’s efforts “an attempt to insult” Labor’s Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in his bid for the post.

In recent days Netanyahu has tried to win the support of coalition parties for legislation that would hold off the vote for President Shimon Peres’ replacement by six months. In the meantime, a committee would be formed to review the need for Israel’s presidency and consider alternatives. The president, whose post is largely ceremonial, is elected by the Knesset.

“The fact that this initiative to delay the election popped up suddenly around a month before the balloting raises suspicions that Netanyahu’s motives are not substantive and that this is an effort to subordinate the schedule to Netanyahu’s political needs,” Labor said in a statement on Sunday

“The date of the presidential election has been known for seven years …. The Labor Party calls on the prime minister to stick to the rules of the democratic game that were established in advance and forget this initiative, which adds no honor to the institution of the presidency, to the Knesset, or particularly to the prime minister.”

Labor’s opposition echoes the opinion of many Likud members, among them Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and MK Haim Katz.

“I will oppose any attempt, if there is one, to push off the presidential election or eliminate the presidency on the eve of the vote,” Sa’ar wrote on his Facebook page. “One does not change the rules mid-game.” Sa’ar supports former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin’s bid for the presidency.

Likud sources said Sa’ar would not have published his message if he thought postponing the vote remained an option. Katz, another key Rivlin supporter, also strongly objects to pushing off the vote.

“My colleagues in Likud and I will not be part of an attempt to change a Basic Law for personal reasons. … Rivlin is the most suitable and the best candidate for Likud, and we all support him for president,” Katz said. He also called on Netanyahu to back Rivlin.

On Sunday, senior Likud officials speculated that Netanyahu’s wife Sara was behind the move to delay the election because of her animosity toward Rivlin.

“Netanyahu and Rivlin have a history of conflicts from the years Rivlin was Knesset speaker,” said a Likud source. “One argument relates to a slip of the tongue by Rivlin — when he said at a Knesset gathering that his wife was not involved in his decision making. Those present understood that Rivlin was criticizing Sara Netanyahu and her involvement in her husband’s doings, even though Rivlin denied this.”

The source said that since then, “Sara has been working to stymie Rivlin’s election to the presidency, and the move to delay or cancel the election is part of the bad blood.”

Others note that another possible candidate, Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom, is also a red flag to the Netanyahus because his wife Judy Nir-Mozes Shalom is a member of the Mozes family that owns the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

“There’s no doubt that Netanyahu and his wife fear having the Mozes-Shaloms in the President’s Residence,” said a Likud source. “Silvan and Judy would overshadow the Netanyahus, and President Shalom would embark on a campaign to be elected prime minister when he finishes his term.”

Shalom, who has yet to confirm his candidacy for president, was recently accused of sexual misconduct by a woman who worked for him some 15 years ago. The case was closed last week due to the statute of limitations, a lack of evidence and the fact that other women questioned refused to file a complaint.

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