The temperature has cooled down somewhat in Israel but the political atmosphere has been heating up. While Israelis are now enjoying seasonal temperatures in the 27-30 C range, I would imagine that it is quite a bit hotter inside the Knesset.
On Tuesday, Israeli MKs (Member of the Knesset - the Israeli Parliament) will hold a closed-ballot election for the position of President of Israel. The MKs will select a replacement for outgoing President Shimon Peres. The campaign for a new president has been mired in scandal with various allegations surfacing over the course of the campaign against different candidates.
The most recent casualty was Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the candidate favoured by many Labour party members. He withdrew from the race after being questioned about financial improprieties relating to his purchase of an apartment and the source of the funds. Another candidate, Sivan Shalom, dropped out of the race earlier after 15 year old allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. The allegations were not substantiated and the Shalom was vindicated but the damage had been done. Other allegations were made against some of the remaining candidates but so far they have remained in the race.
The position of President in Israel is largely a figurehead position, much like the position of Governor General in Canada. The President has the power to ask a party to form a government after an election (by building a majority coalition) though by convention, it is generally the part with the largest number of seats in the Knesset. If that party cannot form a government, the President can ask another party to try if the President believes that the party can put together a coalition. The President also attends various state ceremonies and has certain powers to pardon convicted criminals.
Former Israeli President Moshe Katzav was convicted of sexual assault and is now serving time in prison. His successor, the current incumbent President Shimon Peres, has seemingly restored dignity to the office and has been a very popular president. A recent poll of Israelis indicated that more than 63% felt that Peres has done a good job. Many would probably prefer that he continue to serve in the role. However, as indefatigable as the 90 year old Peres might be, he is limited to one term by Israel's "Basic Law."
Peres has been a tireless promoter of peace and of Israeli goodwill worldwide. He has met with leaders across the world and has sought to build bridges and create mutual understanding. Tonight, President Peres will be in the Vatican along with the Pope and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The three will be participating in a multi-faith prayer ceremony for peace - with prayers in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Italian. The prayers will include Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, focusing on peace. While no one expects that these prayers will have any immediate political impact, the symbolism on Peres' part, as one of his last big gestures as the Israeli President, demonstrates his desire for peace and his hope that his participation will be seen as a representation of the yearning of the Israeli people for a peaceful solution to the problems of the Middle East.
Whomever is elected on Tuesday as Peres' successor will have big boots to fill. Meanwhile, in light of the most recent withdrawal from the race of Ben-Eliezer, some Knesset members, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, are reportedly making efforts to delay the vote by a week or two. Perhaps the thinking is that this would given them more time to try to find other potential candidates - or to decide who they should support from the remaining field. It is hard to see how a two week delay would change very much in this race - though perhaps further scandals will emerge and the field of candidates will be narrowed even further.
Meanwhile, Sivan Shalom, who is no longer a presidential candidate, was a strong advocate of making Sundays a day off in Israel. His push for a five day week seems to have lost some steam recently and Israelis continue to enjoy a six-day work week (even though many Israelis do not work on Fridays). Our kids continue to "enjoy" a six day school week. I note this simply to point out that although next Sunday is Father's Day in Canada and the United States, there is no such holiday in Israel. On the third Sunday in June, the kids will be in school just as they are on any other Sunday. Those who are serving in the army will be at their bases as they would be on any other Sunday.
How does this all tie in to the Israeli presidential elections? It probably doesn't. But here's hoping that whichever candidate is elected as Israel's next President will serve the State with dignity and honour and continue along the path of outgoing President Shimon Peres in spreading Israeli goodwill throughout the world.