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Israel Elects New President
Jun 12, 2014

The Israeli Parliament elected Reuven Rivlin, a veteran Likud Party politician and former minister and Parliament speaker, as the country’s next president, ending what many here described as the most unseemly race in Israel’s history for what is largely a ceremonial post.

Rivlin, 74, the affable scion of an established Jerusalem family, will replace Shimon Peres, 90, whose seven-year term ends in late July.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also a Likud member, has done little to hide his personal differences with Rivlin and only recently and begrudgingly endorsed him for the presidency. Before that, Netanyahu tried for months to block his candidacy, even examining the possibility of abolishing the presidency.

Rivlin, a conservative and veteran of more than 20 years in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, garnered support from some in the center and on the left because of his reputation as a staunch defender of democratic principles. Failing to gain the 61 votes of the 120-seat Parliament necessary to win in the first round, Rivlin faced a centrist, Meir Sheetrit, in a second round of secret balloting and won, 63-53.

Rivlin, with little international standing, is likely to bring the office of the presidency back to its previous, more modest proportions. Though most Israeli presidents have been former politicians, the job broadly entails rising above Israel’s fractious political scene and offering a unifying voice that bridges national, political and social divides.

But Rivlin’s politics are far from mainstream. He opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and rejects the idea of territorial partition to make way for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, he has spoken out in favor of a single state with equal rights for all its citizens, though presumably under overall Israeli sovereignty and control.

Mr. Rivlin has also refused to recognize Reform Judaism, perhaps fearing a loss of support among the ultra-Orthodox parties. (He ran for president in 2007 and lost to Shimon Peres.) 

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