Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Av 5760 - August 9, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Looking Beyond the New President

The entire office is far from us in spirit and content. The fact that there is a President of the State of Israel is a result of the converging of the interests of those who wanted to express their perception of the State as the modern heir of the "Jewish tradition of royalty," and the political needs of Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, to find a job for his political rival, Chaim Weitzman, where he could do Ben Gurion no harm. Its prestige in the eyes of most is best summed up in the reaction of Golda Meir some thirty years ago when she declined the offer of the presidency: "I am not yet over-bottel." (She did not have an easy time smoothing the ruffled feathers of then-president Shazar after that comment.)

But that does not mean that the vote last week was insignificant. Throughout the fifty-two years that the State has been in existence, the candidate of the Leftist Labor Party (whatever it was called at the time) became president -- until last week. This is as true of the 18 years the Likud controlled the government as the other 34 years.

It was again "obvious" to all that Shimon Peres, the candidate of the Left and one of the last remaining members of the founding generation of the State, would win. The Knesset had already prepared a glossy, full-color pamphlet celebrating President Peres. All the invitations -- 1200 of them -- to the festive reception for the new president had gone out in ample time to reach their addresses by mail. The nature of that list can be gleaned from the fact that after Katzav won, hundreds of invitations had to be faxed out on the last day. The reception itself was far and away the most lavish that there ever was for a new president. Eliezer Rauchberger, Yated's Knesset correspondent, noted that the Speaker of the Knesset, Avram Burg, calls Peres "mori verabbi haruchani" and many wondered if he would have thrown such a lavish party if he had known that the guest of honor would be Moshe Katzav.

It is only the frustration of their sudden confrontation with reality that can explain the ugly "analyses" that characterized the Israeli press in the wake of the upset. "Nothing can erase the shame that the Knesset has brought upon itself" in thus treating Shimon Peres. "The Zionism that set its goal as the restoration of the Jewish People to the family of nations on an equal footing suffered a blow in the Knesset." Moshe Katzav, a fervent Zionist who worked his way up from the immigrant tents through the Israeli melting pot, and who won the position in fair elections without a hint of scandal, brings shame -- according to the Israeli press -- upon the State of Israel by becoming its president!

Though Moshe Katzav is a kosher Jew who keeps mitzvos and sends his children to religious schools (mamlachti dati) he is far from what we consider a hero, and we can think of many better uses for the big budget that supports the office he now occupies, yet we cannot help noting several points with satisfaction.

Negatively, the defeat of Peres, the candidate of the Left, does mark a significant defeat for the current government and all the secularism and anti-Judaism that it represents. Positively, as far as it goes, it is good to have a religious person in a position that never had one, and we can only hope that the new president is not shy about projecting his links to Judaism and the true roots of the Jewish people to the Israeli public arena. We are not sorry that we did not get the "new Middle East" promised by Shimon Peres and truly look forward to the real old Middle East of our forefathers.

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