Presidential Checkmate

It looks like Reuven ‘Ruby’ Rivlin may very well be coronated President on Tuesday, but he will be a poor representative in an irrelevant office that is a metaphor for the British Monarchy.

The Israeli Knesset in Session
The Israeli Knesset in Session

With the reluctant support of Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, and even such left-leaning personalities as Shelly Yachimovich, and with the recent withdrawal of Labor Party candidate Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Ruby seems to be on track for election. Ruby sees the presidency as an opportunity to serve as a center of dialogue on Judaism. His op-ed here on Times of Israel is full of irrational Talmudic commentaries that are far removed from the Torah, and the whole article is far removed from Judaism and the real problems that face Israel today. A man who does not accept all Jews as Jews or all Jewish movements as Jewish does not deserve the Israeli presidency, let alone his opposition to the Two State Solution.

The president of Israel is elected to a 7-year term by a majority of the Knesset (61 votes) and may only serve one term. The office is largely powerless and irrelevant but does carry some responsibilities and receives significant publicity. See my previous article Presidential Chess.

Meir Sheetrit and Nobel Laureate Dan Shectman also posted op-eds on Times of Israel that were rational, even-tempered, and reflect the real challenges before Israel: the need to highlight Israel’s social diversity and the desire to promote education. Former Kadima Member of the Knesset (MK) Dalia Itzik and former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner round out the five current candidates. Dorner has been a fair judge and has decided several cases on the side of social freedom. For this she is my favorite candidate, and also because she teaches law at my alma mater, Bar-Ilan University.

The vote is held by secret ballot and can thus hold surprises. In the first round of voting, if none of the candidates receives an outright majority, the two highest performing candidates proceed to a second round. If neither receives a majority in that round, in the third round the winner of the largest plurality wins the election. Rivlin is certain to advance to the second round, probably in first place. Who will be the other contender? Shectman and Itzik are favorites. Could the Knesset members vote to avert a Rivlin presidency and give Shechtman the win? This would certainly seem a miraculous result.

Is the Presidency Necessary?

According to the published budget the presidency costs Israel at least NIS 40 million ($11.6 million) in salary, staff, travel costs, and security. Is the expenditure necessary? In a recent article on the Ministerial President I discussed what could replace the Israeli presidency. The presidency has lately been a source of scandal and embarrassment, with two of the last three presidents caught up in financial or criminal behavior. Shimon Peres has just restored some dignity and prestige to the office, only now to face the real possibility of the office being embarassed once again.

Should Israel suffer the embarrassment of a president who is deeply out of touch with the diaspora, a man for whom being Jewish alone just isn’t good enough, and who seems disconnected from Israel’s current reality? It is my supreme hope that the Knesset will prevent this by choosing a better president than Rivlin. Whether or not the Knesset is able to do so, this tenth president of Israel should be its last.

The Knesset should take up this issue of presidential reform during the next year and vote to amend the Basic Law to eliminate this needless position and save hard working Israeli taxpayers 40 million shekels per anum. The office could be done away with immediately after the enactment of the reform, after the election of the 20th Knesset (scheduled for 2017) or at the expiration of the current term in 2021. If Rivlin prevails, the sooner the office ends the better.

About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.