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A new president is slated to be elected on Wednesday. The Knesset’s 120 members will cast secret ballots to decide between two candidates to become Israel’s first citizen – Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, a former leader of the Labor Party, and Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, an educator who lost two of her sons during their military service.
The presidential election is taking place as Israel tries to free itself from the political impasse it has been trapped in after four Knesset elections in two years, as it remains poised on the brink between “a government of change” and a fifth election, and at a time when the prime minister is a criminal defendant with no brakes who is willing to destroy any institution, divide society, circumvent any law and bend any standard to remain in power.
Nor is it just the political system that’s broken. The ever-present internal tensions in Israeli society reached the boiling point in recent weeks and Israel spun completely out of control. Violent unrest between Jews and Arabs erupted in mixed cities and the Border Police were sent into them in an effort to stop the riots, killings, torching of synagogues, desecration of graves and attempts to torch mosques. At the same time, the ultra-Orthodox community has experienced disasters within its de facto “autonomous zone.” The four tribes that comprise Israeli society, about which the outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin, spoke in a formative speech, appear to be on the brink of war – civil war.
At this difficult moment, Israel needs intensive care. It needs change like it needs air to breathe. But political change could also ignite the flammable material that Netanyahu, in criminal fashion, has systematically spread. In an explosive situation like this, the president, who is ostensibly “above” the political system, is of crucial importance. It’s within his power to try to calm tempers and reconcile the tribes while also upholding the national ethos and protecting Israel’s commitment to democracy and its founding values at a time when they’re under assault, just as Rivlin tried to do during his seven years in office.
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Neither of the candidates rouses enthusiasm. Peretz is a candidate not because of her own actions, but because she is a bereaved mother. The way she coped with her bereavement is admirable, but that doesn’t make her qualified to be president. Herzog, the son of a former president, was born to the job in both senses of the word, and this leaves a bad taste with regard to equality of opportunity. Nevertheless, he’s a well-known public figure, accepted and admired, who doesn’t arouse antagonism among any of the tribes. Herzog has held many positions in the political system. During his many years of public service, he accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience and formed ties across the political spectrum, as well as with global leaders. All this has made him qualified to do the job. Given these two candidates, Herzog is preferable.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.