God Save Israel's Next President

Israel should learn from the British royals what qualities make a head of state, and not leave it to sordid political horse-trading.

The mounting rumors from London that the Queen may imminently abdicate, and the mounting preparations in Jerusalem to drag a reluctant Shimon Peres out of the President's Residence at the end of his seven-year term make comparative thoughts about the two systems almost irresistible. New-born Israel, after all, proudly and publicly adopted parts of the UK's non-constitution in the late 1940's to shore up its evolving parliamentary democracy.

It could hardly have adopted a 1,000-year monarchic tradition.

The first comparative thought, then, is not that one of President Peres's two sons or his better-known daughter Tzvia Walden should succeed him.

Nor do I broach as my initial concern, though it is serious, the possible worldwide downside of the abdication of the most famous sovereign in the world, who pledged at the start of her reign that she would "devote her whole life, whether it be long or short" to serving her people. Her abdication may well be taken as legitimizing other top executives' counter-contractual threats of resignation, thereby undermining stability and predictability in many areas of human affairs.

If you can't rely on a queen – she would be the second abdicating 21st century sovereign; Holland's Beatrix, in 2013, was the first – to do her duty until God decides otherwise, who can you rely on?

Nevertheless, the irresistible thought that comes first to my mind is to compare the basic confidence of the British people in their heir-apparent, Prince Charles, with the unconcealed contempt of so many Israelis toward the sordid fighting among our politicians over who will inherit President Peres's post, who will attempt to emulate his universally recognized success in the job.

Not every British citizen likes or respects Prince Charles. Some think his various public campaigns over the years (in architecture, organic farming, wildlife, and so forth) have been obsessive or even eccentric. Some think his insistence on Diana the virgin as his consort, and his failure to insist on marrying the woman he loved (until Diana was dead) were weak and immature behavior.

But everyone expects him to discharge a king's duties satisfactorily – if only because he has had years and years of meticulous royal training, as well as military experience and academic accomplishment. He will effectively represent and embody the essential ethos of his country abroad and at home, if only because he has closely watched his mum doing so brilliantly over years and decades. He could have no better teacher.

Shimon Peres has done brilliantly, too. Perhaps thanks to Ben-Gurion's early mentoring?

One wonders whether it is the likely success of the various presidential candidates to represent and embody the essential ethos of their country abroad and at home that will influence the Knesset Members in their secret vote for President. A thoroughly discouraging speculation published recently in this respect suggested that candidate Silvan Shalom will benefit in the race from the fact that he holds several ministerial portfolios simultaneously, among them: Negev and Galilee Development; Energy and Water; Regional Cooperation. If he becomes President, the logic goes, he will leave lots of room on the ministerial gravy train – a good reason for bored but ambitious MKs to vote for him.

This is not to suggest that Shalom is a bad candidate for President; there are far worse ones. But those are the kind of considerations that inevitably fuel a political race. One can well sympathize with the growing demand that the president be voted on by the entire Israeli public, rather than in behind-the-scenes Knesset deals.

There would have to be new legislation, and it is hard to imagine our MKs, of all parties, abdicating their role as the presidential electoral college. The identity of the Head of State in Israel – a professor, a rabbanit, or a politician – is stuff of the give-and-take of politics. But that surely can't be the best system of selecting one.
 

AP