Retirement Home

Dan Meridor can be counted on not to screw up. Meridor is a bleeding heart, a gentle soul. This is a compliment, and it is exactly what the President's Residence needs.

There is no doubt that the great embarrassment caused to the President's Residence by Moshe Katsav and (to a much lesser extent) by Ezer Weizman must result in the drawing of certain conclusions. The conclusions do not entail getting rid of the institution of the presidency. Every country has a head of state who symbolizes and represents it and its unity, and Israel needs a symbol of unity more than many other states.

The necessary conclusions are that the method for choosing the president has failed. In the last two presidential terms, the President's Residence has turned into a retirement home for politicians on their way out. The Knesset members took advantage of the fact that they were the ones to select the president to control yet another prestigious and lucrative post. This grab has created a number of problems. The main one is that the president is supposed to represent unity and honesty, but because of their very nature, politicians drag old disagreements, and the occasional can of worms, into the President's Residence.

The presidents who directly preceded Weizman, Chaim Herzog and Yitzhak Navon, came from the political arena but they were chosen because of their suitability to the position, because they were symbols of unity, because of their ability to represent the state.

Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin are excellent politicians, but the President's Residence needs a person who is not infinitely controversial (like Peres), and who is not only entirely deserving but who has also never been a criminal suspect (like Rivlin, in the David Appel scandals). The last thing the presidency needs is investigative news articles about the new president.

If we must have a politician as president, then the most reasonable candidate is a man who has been in the political wilderness for many years - Dan Meridor, a symbol of Zionism, moderation and the middle ground. Meridor can be counted on not to screw up. Meridor is a bleeding heart, a gentle soul. This is a compliment, and it is exactly what the President's Residence needs. Amram Mitzna, who behaved in a noble manner and went to Yeruham (to be mayor of the southern development town), could have been a decent candidate were he not tainted by reports of possible irregularities in the 2003 election campaign. To repeat, we need a president who is above all suspicion.

The candidacy of Chief Rabbi Israel Lau is especially embarrassing. After he was chosen to serve as chief rabbi, he withdrew a slander suit he had filed to counter charges of sexual harassment and unbecoming conduct toward women. How shall I put this - this may not be what the country needs after Katsav. In addition, Lau does not recognize Reform and Conservative Judaism - in other words, the majority of North American Jews. In such a situation, it is not clear how he could even think he could serve as president.

It is certainly appropriate to consider other candidates from the religious world, but they must be much more moderate. Two possible candidates include Prof. Avraham Shapira, considered the father of the "Jewish bookshelf" revolution among the non-observant public, and Tova Ilan, founder and former director of the Yaacov Herzog Center for Jewish Studies. Yes, we must aspire to have a female president the next time around, and it would be better if the Knesset speaker were to look for one other than herself.

There is no certainty that the individuals mentioned above are suitable from every aspect, but it is certain that this is the time for creative thinking. The truth is that no great effort is needed. One could simply go to the Israel Prize Web site. Would it really be that crazy to consider the candidacy of actress Gila Almagor? Veteran news anchor Haim Yavin might also work, despite the joke made of it on the satirical program "A Wonderful Country." It would be best to get over the Israeli tendency to belittle everything and to ask whether Almagor or Yavin might be better able to symbolize and represent us than all the other candidates mentioned so far. For those who cannot bear the thought of a president from the world of culture and the media, here's another suggestion: Israel Prize laureate Avraham Doron, Israel's leading social and welfare policy researcher.

Is it really too much to expect from 120 MKs to rise above themselves and choose someone from outside their own club? It is not clear. What is clear is that if they select a suitable president from outside, they will greatly improve their own image. Maybe the public will even be persuaded that they are occasionally able to make decisions based on the relevant facts. If they are not capable of this, then maybe it is time to change the entire system and create an independent selection body representing a broad cross-section of intellectuals. Maybe they would be able to choose a suitable president.