Background: Six candidates to compete for Israeli presidential race
JERUSALEM, May 29 (Xinhua) -- After completing the registration procedure earlier this week, six candidates will battle it out next month in hopes of replacing Shimon Peres as the Israeli President.
Members of parliament will vote in a secret ballot on June 10. Since a simple majority is needed (61 out of 120 members), there is a distinct possibility the elections would move on to a second round.
The group of six involves veteran politicians, representing different sides of the political spectrum with the belief they can do more with the seemingly "ceremonial" role and lead the country in a better direction. Here's a look at the nominees, their chances to win and their views.
REUVEN RIVLIN, THE LEADING CANDIDATE
Rivlin, a veteran Likud party member, is considered the "voice of reason." A lawyer by training, he was first elected as parliament member in 1988. He had since served as communications minister in the early 2000's and as the Knesset (parliament) speaker. He also ran for president in 2007, but withdrew once he saw Peres was on his way to victory.
He is considered to be part of the "old generation" of Likud politicians, holding moderate right-wing views and going against attempts at anti-democratic legislation enacted by the far right.
Rivlin is currently the leading candidate. He is the public's favorite according to polls published in various media outlets with 31 percent support. He had also received the endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
DID NETANYAHU'S ENDORSEMENT HELP RIVLIN?
"Netanyahu was compelled to do the logical thing as chairman of the Likud and (endorsed Rivlin) with clenched jaw and gnashing teeth," Ha'aretz political analyst Yossi Verter wrote on Thursday. Verter explained that what pushed Netanyahu to endorse Lieberman was an attack by Likud members.
Omri Nahmias, the Walla! news website political correspondent and analyst, tends to agree with Verter.
"Netanyahu announced his support for Rivlin only after being left without alternatives," he told Xinhua on Thursday. "More and more Likud ministers and members of parliament were showing support for Rivlin. He decided to support Rivlin when it appeared he was almost certain to win the race," Nahmias said.
Netanyahu's endorsement, Nahmias charges, may have added another vote or two of Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, but may cost Rivlin other votes.
"The ultra-orthodox parties, for instance, are determined to humiliate Netanyahu (for his involvement in legislation to conscript ultra-orthodox men to the military) by electing the candidate he would most dislike," he added. "The presidential race wasn't determined on Wednesday. To a great extent, it has just started all over again," Nahmias said.
BENJAMIN BEN ELIEZER, A LIAISON TO THE ARAB WORLD?
Ben-Eliezer, 78, considered the runner-up in the race, is a veteran member of the Labor party. A longtime politician and former Defense Minister is known to have good ties with the Arab world, specifically with ousted Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and with several official figures in Turkey, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ben Eliezer promised he would build bridges between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries and he is mainly supported by members of his Labor party.
In an interview with the Ma'ariv daily last week, he said that he is the person most equipped to handle "the divide inside the Knesset and the rupture within the Israeli society." "I see my role as gluing everybody back together," he said.
He also announced he would focus on social themes during his presidency. As for his views on diplomacy, he said he supported talking with Hamas if it recognizes Israel and that he supports separating from the Palestinians with mutually agreed upon boundaries.
However, there is a shadow looming over him as recently allegations surfaced in the media that he has been involved in corruption affairs and that he is an "avid gambler."
TIME FOR A WOMAN PRESIDENT?
Another candidate is former Knesset speaker and member of the Kadima party Dalia Itzik.
"After 64 years and nine presidents, it's time for a woman president," former Kadima member and ex-Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik said while filing her nomination this week, adding that she will try to advance the issue of education, reducing the inequality gaps and promoting equal opportunities for all, especially women.
"Itzik is a politician with acute senses, she wouldn't run if she estimated there was not a chance for her to win," Nahmias said. "In 2013, she withdrew from Kadima after understanding she would not make it to the Knesset (the party received 2 seats in the Knesset) and when Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni battled over the leadership of Kadima, she didn't choose sides as no one could guess who would be elected," he said.
Itzik will apparently be supported by members of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beytenu party, as there is a special bond between Lieberman and Itzik. Lieberman does not want to endorse Rivlin, who thwarted some of his legislation moves in the past several years.
According to reports by Ma'ariv, Lieberman is pushing for Yesh Atid members to also vote for Itzik. However, the public doesn't apparently see her appeal, with only two percent of respondents in a poll telling the Channel 2 news they would support her for president.
MEIR SHEETRIT, LIVNI'S CANDIDATE
Another long-time politician in the race, but one deemed very unlikely to win, is Meir Sheetrit, member of Livni's Hatnua Party. Like Livni, he started his political career in the Knesset in 1981 as a member of the Likud Party and switched to Kadima in 2006. He served, as the finance minister, interior minister, justice minister, among others, in the past three decades. His main supporters are from his party (which only garnered six seats in parliament in the January 2013 elections) and some members of Yesh Atid.
In an interview with Al-Monitor's political analyst Mazal Mualem, Sheetrit expressed his peace-oriented views and his resentment with the Israeli government's decision to suspend talks with the Palestinian Authority over the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact.
"There is no reason to be alarmed by the Fatah-Hamas agreement. This could actually be an opportunity for us," he said, marking him as one of the only candidates to speak in such a manner regarding the peace process, contradicting the stance exhibited by Netanyahu and members of his right-wing coalition.
"The right-wing is familiar with my opinions. My positions are clear and I never deceived anyone." He also said that as president he would try to promote socio-economic themes, saying that he believes "that our real threat is not the Arabs, but the social ills in our society."
THE POLITICAL "OUTSIDERS"
Two candidates are not part of the political milieu and have made a name for themselves in two distinct fields. Although they do not possess a high chance of winning, they represent the public 's lack of satisfaction with Israeli politicians.
Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court judge, was identified throughout her tenure as a liberal advocate for civil rights, especially for women and homosexuals. She was the head of the Israeli Journalism Committee and she had also become a lecturer in several academic facilities.
"I hope that the fact I am running for the role of president will attract more women to run for the prestigious honor in the future," she said during a recent lecture at the Haifa Technion institute. "This is an apolitical role and we must unite to show the beautiful face of this country," she added.
She says that she operates in a different way than politicians and says she also wishes to become "everyone's president," although some say that she is identified with the left-wing camp due to her liberal and humanist approach. She garnered support for her nomination from members of the left-wing Meretz party as well as some members of Yesh Atid.
Prof. Dan Shectman, is a laureate of the Chemistry Nobel Prize. Israel had in the past two scientists as presidents, including the first president Haim Weizmann and Prof. Efraim Katzir. "I didn't hear from the politicians yet but I get a lot of support from the public," he told the Walla news website last week.
Other than his distinguished credentials as a leading scientist, Shechtman has clear strong views on diplomatic topics. For instance, he believes in bridging the gaps with the Iranian people.
"This could take some time, but the Iranians would become our best friends, because they are free in their spirit," he said in 2012.