Israel’s 120-seat parliament has chosen longtime Likud member Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin as the country’s next president. He will succeed the popular Shimon Peres, who retires next month at the age of 90.
Rivlin, who served two terms as speaker of the Knesset, has been a member of parliament for almost 20 years. He won on the second round of voting June 10 after none of the original five candidates, including Nobel chemistry laureate Dan Shechtman, achieved a majority. Rivlin beat out rival Knesset member Meir Sheetrit in the second round.
Rivlin, who opposes an independent Palestinian state, said that he will serve the entire public. “This [Likud] party was my home, as I said it would be until I was legally obligated to leave it. Now, I am no longer a party man, I am no longer a faction man. I am everybody’s man. A man of the people.”
Although Rivlin is from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, there has been tension between the two men since Rivlin reportedly made a nasty remark about Netanyahu’s wife.
His election came after a nasty campaign. One candidate, Labor’s Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, was forced to drop out over allegations of corruption after some $500,000 that he had not declared to income tax authorities was found in his safe deposit box. He said it was money that his son, who lives abroad, had given him to hold until he bought an apartment in Israel.
Israeli analysts say Rivlin is a logical choice as president and may be less interventionist than his predecessor.
“Rivlin represents the old aristocracy in the Likud,” said political commentator Amiel Ungar. “I think he will walk back some of Peres’ interventionism.”
The presidency in Israel is a symbolic, but important, position. As Israel is a parliamentary democracy, voters choose a party, not an individual candidate. The party with the largest number of votes usually forms the governing coalition.
“I believe the presidency should go back to the original model of an intellectual, moral leader, not a golden handshake from the political arena,” Ungar said.
This campaign focused on economic issues and politics. After Ben-Eliezer dropped out, there was pressure on the candidates for full financial disclosure. According to Israeli law, candidates need to report their income and assets to the Knesset ethics committee, but their information is not publicized. In this case, all of the candidates publicly disclosed their assets.
“Lately we have been looking closely into the financial ties of our elected politicians and we know that a link between government and business is not healthy in any democracy,” said Yitzhak Galnoor, a professor of political science at Hebrew University and the former civil service commissioner. “Candidates for any public position should make clear details about their health and their finances.”
The election took place just a few days after Peres traveled to the Vatican for a joint prayer for peace with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Galnoor says that as Knesset speaker, Rivlin was scrupulously fair.
“Judging by his behavior, I think he will be on guard for Israeli democracy,” Galnoor said. “He will put aside any ideological inclination and will be the president of all Israelis.”