Replacing Peres: Dark Horses, Dreamers and Actual Candidates in Israel's Race for the Presidency

Sarah Silverman has a better chance of being Israel's next president than some of the candidates

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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Shimon Peres. Who else could convince the world that Israel is a peace-seeking, fun-loving, developed country
Shimon Peres. Who else could convince the world that Israel is a peace-seeking, fun-loving, developed countryCredit: Reuven Kastro, Maariv
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

There's a new reality show in Israel. As is the custom, the contestants are ambitious and camera-loving. The prize: a cushy job that promises fame, prestige and a jet-setting lifestyle.

The problem: zero rating. No one's watching.

As the race for Israel’s presidency enters its final stage - Shimon Peres leaves at the end of July - Israelis seem unmoved. The contest over this symbolic but otherwise inconsequential position doesn't seem to qualify even for water-cooler gossip.

This doesn’t mean there's no drama. The (mostly self-appointed) candidates – 11 at this point - are terribly busy: campaigning in Knesset (a candidate needs 10 MK signatures in order to be considered); wooing the public; smearing each other in the press. It's like an unfunny spoof of the Hunger Games. But instead of being children, the contestants are old; and instead of slaughtering each other in innovative ways, they're boring the rest of the world to death.

Lacking a candidate he can (or wants to) support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is simultaneously working to postpone the presidential election (which is in Knesset, not among the public) and to abolish the presidency altogether. Also, he’s considering putting his longtime confidante (and former minister of justice) Yaakov Neeman up for the job.

Meanwhile, the presidency does exist. In anticipation of the tenth race, here is a brief rundown of the contestants, in vague order of likelihood.

The One Who Really Wants It : Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin

Reuven Rivlin, former Speaker of the Knesset, definitely wants the job. After losing the presidential race to Shimon Peres in 2007, Rivlin has devoted his time to arguing that he should become president when Peres’ term is over. He's dropped his right-wing-jester persona and reinvented himself as a voice of reason in an increasingly insane political world.

The problem: He needs the support of Netanyahu, his longtime nemesis. And Netanyahu, it seems, seems to want to avoid endorsing Rivlin as the Likud candidate so badly that he prefers to abolish the presidency altogether.

The Old Hand: Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (or Fuad, as he's fondly known), former deputy prime minister, former minister of defense, former many things - might just be the president Israel deserves, if not the one it needs. Battling long-standing allegations of nepotism, cronyism and “Fuadism” (yes, that is an actual term), there is some sort of ironic logic to Ben-Eliezer becoming president. If the president is supposed to reflect the values of the people he represents, who’s a better representative of the values of Israel 2014 than Fuad, the ultimate political fixture?

Fuad is the only candidate other than Rivlin who is truly in the running - meaning, he already has his required ten signatures.

The problem: He's old (78) and not in the pink of health. As of writing he's undergoing a kidney transplant. Plus, recent media reports about him frequenting sumptuous casinos in London while serving as minister in the early 2000s might kill his chances. Ben-Eliezer denies gambling in said casinos and says the stories are a smear being spread by his presidential-race rivals, who (he claimed last week) have hired private investigators to follow him.

The Early Casualty: Silvan Shalom

Former Finance Minister and current Energy Minister Silvan Shalom - also known as the man behind the woman, the woman being Judy Shalom-Nir-Mozes - was seen as a frontrunner when he (unofficially) started campaigning earlier this year. Almost immediately, he was charged of sexually assaulting a former female employee 15 years ago, and his chances of ever becoming president dwindled to none. Shalom claimed this was a hatchet job by other presidential hopefuls and personal enemies, and his case was definitely strengthened by the fact that the case against him was dropped earlier this month.

The problem: It was too late. His unofficial candidacy is now, most likely, officially kaput.

The Outsiders: Dalia Dorner, Dan Shechtman

Dan Shechtman is a Nobel Prize laureate; Dalia Dorner is a retired Supreme Court Justice, a noted advocate for human rights and one of the most esteemed judges in the history of Israel. Separately, both have announced their intentions of running.

Indeed: Instead of conferring Israel's highest honor to the best-connected politicians, how about appointing people who actually made their country proud?

The probem: The public has been chilly to Shechtman and Dorner's support-seeking sallies into social media, and their reception in Knesset was even worse. Neither candidate has been able to get enough MKs to endorse them. Their only chance might be wild-card Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who could change things if he decides to throw his support behind one of them. Otherwise, they’re hopeless.

The Long Shots: Dalia Itzik, Meir Shitrit, Natan Sharansky, David Levy

Former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik desperately wants to be Israel’s first female president. So do the others, including David Levy, a long-term MK who served in senior ministerial positions from 1969 to 2002.

The problem: None of these people stand a chance in hell of becoming president, so 'nuff said about them.

The John Doe: Yosef Abramowitz

Yosef Abramowitz is the brother-in-law of comedian Sarah Silverman. A solar energy entrepreneur who immigrated to Israel seven years ago, Abramowitz announced his candidacy earlier this month. He seems he is putting a lot of effort into his quest and far be it from us to ridicule another man’s dreams; so let’s just say his sister-in-law has a better chance.

The President Everyone Actually Wants: Shimon Peres

If they had the choice, the people of Israel would probably vote to keep Shimon Peres right where he is.

During his seven years as president, Peres has done everything in his power to erase the stain his predecessor left on the office. And, largely, he succeeded: the president’s role has never been more glamorous, more revered and, let’s face it, more fun-looking than during Peres’ term. Who else could convince the world that Israel is a peace-seeking, fun-loving, developed country?

The problem is that he was so good at it, that now people don't want to think about the possibility of someone succeeding him. Netanyahu has been trying to persuade him to stay in office just a leeeeetle longer, but Peres, 90, has made it clear that the day the term ends, he's off.

And if Netanyahu has his way, Shimon Peres just might be the last president of Israel. The president to end all presidents. Given the alternatives, maybe that’s not so bad.

Benjamin Ben-EliezerCredit: Yael Engelhart
Among the dignitatries discussing Israel's image at the Jewish journalists' convention in Jerusalem will be PM Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Shimon Peres.Credit: Reuters

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