Looking Beyond the New President
The entire office is far from us in spirit and content. The
fact that there is a President of the State of Israel is a
result of the converging of the interests of those who wanted
to express their perception of the State as the modern heir
of the "Jewish tradition of royalty," and the political needs
of Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, to find a
job for his political rival, Chaim Weitzman, where he could
do Ben Gurion no harm. Its prestige in the eyes of most is
best summed up in the reaction of Golda Meir some thirty
years ago when she declined the offer of the presidency: "I
am not yet over-bottel." (She did not have an easy
time smoothing the ruffled feathers of then-president Shazar
after that comment.)
But that does not mean that the vote last week was
insignificant. Throughout the fifty-two years that the State
has been in existence, the candidate of the Leftist Labor
Party (whatever it was called at the time) became president --
until last week. This is as true of the 18 years the Likud
controlled the government as the other 34 years.
It was again "obvious" to all that Shimon Peres, the
candidate of the Left and one of the last remaining members
of the founding generation of the State, would win. The
Knesset had already prepared a glossy, full-color pamphlet
celebrating President Peres. All the invitations -- 1200 of
them -- to the festive reception for the new president had
gone out in ample time to reach their addresses by mail. The
nature of that list can be gleaned from the fact that after
Katzav won, hundreds of invitations had to be faxed out on
the last day. The reception itself was far and away the most
lavish that there ever was for a new president. Eliezer
Rauchberger, Yated's Knesset correspondent, noted that
the Speaker of the Knesset, Avram Burg, calls Peres "mori
verabbi haruchani" and many wondered if he would have
thrown such a lavish party if he had known that the guest of
honor would be Moshe Katzav.
It is only the frustration of their sudden confrontation with
reality that can explain the ugly "analyses" that
characterized the Israeli press in the wake of the upset.
"Nothing can erase the shame that the Knesset has brought
upon itself" in thus treating Shimon Peres. "The Zionism that
set its goal as the restoration of the Jewish People to the
family of nations on an equal footing suffered a blow in the
Knesset." Moshe Katzav, a fervent Zionist who worked his way
up from the immigrant tents through the Israeli melting pot,
and who won the position in fair elections without a hint of
scandal, brings shame -- according to the Israeli press --
upon the State of Israel by becoming its president!
Though Moshe Katzav is a kosher Jew who keeps mitzvos
and sends his children to religious schools (mamlachti
dati) he is far from what we consider a hero, and we can
think of many better uses for the big budget that supports
the office he now occupies, yet we cannot help noting several
points with satisfaction.
Negatively, the defeat of Peres, the candidate of the Left,
does mark a significant defeat for the current government and
all the secularism and anti-Judaism that it represents.
Positively, as far as it goes, it is good to have a religious
person in a position that never had one, and we can only hope
that the new president is not shy about projecting his links
to Judaism and the true roots of the Jewish people to the
Israeli public arena. We are not sorry that we did not get
the "new Middle East" promised by Shimon Peres and truly look
forward to the real old Middle East of our forefathers.
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