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October 04, 2002 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-10-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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OTHER, VIEWS

A Public Figure Above Politics

member of.the Shinui party
threatened to bring impeach-
hen Moshe
ment proceedings against
Katzav was elect-
Katzay. He declared that his
ed president of
statement had been taken out
Israel a little more
of context, apologized, and
than two years ago, he was
has been careful ever since.
practically unknown outside
During the two years of his
the country.
— - --
CARL
administration, Katzav has
Observers overseas, who had
gradually emerged as a true
ALPERT
become accustomed to the
representative of the people,
election of renowned personal-
Special
ities like Chaim Weizmann,
Commentary without political ties or loyal-
ties. It has been accepted that
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others
the presidency of Israel is a post with-
regarded as the "founding aristocracy"
out power. It is merely a symbol. The
of the Jewish state, could not help but
president's functions are largely social
ask, "Moshe who?" when Katzav was
and diplomatic in nature.
elected in July 2000.
Yet Katzav has gradually taken on a
When Weizmann died in 1952,
father image, openly interested in the
David Ben-Gurion offered the presi-
welfare of all citizens. He loses no
dency to Albert Einstein, considered
opportunity to seek to bridge the dif-
the most prestigious Jew of his time.
ferences of opinion in a country
The latter refused the offer, and the
marked by many controversies and
presidency thereafter rotated among
domestic prominent personalities Ben- disputed issues between Jew and Jew,
and Jew and Arab. In the swirl of nor-
Zvi, Zalman Shazar, Professor
mal political antagonisms, he has
Ephraim Katzir, Yitzhak Navon,
introduced a new spirit of public wel-
Chaim Herzog and Ezer Weizman.
fare based on political neutrality. Some
The Knesset, rather than a popular
may call it populism, but the public
vote of the electorate,. chooses Israel's
has been truly responsive.
president.
The new atmosphere at the president's
And then came Katzay. Startling was
office also has been seen as a marked
the fact that this relatively unknown
contrast to the more contentious and
had defeated veteran political leader
sometimes explosive spirit that marked
Shimon Peres, who, incidentally, failed
Ezer Weizman's term of office.
to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Political commentators, quick to put
Even at home, Katzav was not gen-
the spotlight on the weaknesses and
erally regarded as one of the giants in
failings of politicians, have suddenly
public life. His career, though impres-
become aware of the new spirit ema-
sive, had been modest. Born in Iran,
nating from the presidency. Katzav
he came to Israel with his family in
does not hold himself aloof. He makes
1951 at the age of 6. He had a good
schooling and received a degree in eco- many public appearances, and does
not hesitate to express views seeking to
nomics from Hebrew University.
calm troubled waters. The presidency
Katzav had a pleasant personality
and at age 24 was elected mayor of the has heretofore been marked by pres-
tige, but without power. Katzav has
immigrant town of Kiryat Malachi,
utilized that prestige to give himself
serving for a number of years.
public relations power.
From 1977, he was a member of the
It is recognized that having attained
Knesset. His political views were right-
the presidency he has no personal
ist and under-successive Likud admin-
political ambitions, and, therefore, his
istrations, he filled several ministerial
opinions and recommendations are
posts, though with no particular dis-
purely in the public interest. With it
tinction.
all, Katzav has preserved a modest
There was one misstep during
demeanor, without ostentation. Yet he
Katzav's first week in the presidency.
has chosen to be outspoken on issues
Personally religious, he was quoted by
that he considers to be in the public
a haredi (fervently Orthodox) newspa-
good, and the people have responded
per as saying that the Jewish state
accordingly.
would never have come into existence
Under current regulations, Katzav
if all the Jews were secularists like
will serve as president for five more
Tommy Lapid and Yossi Sarid. A
years, and is not eligible for re-elec-
Carl Alpert is a U.S. native who made
tion. But since he will retire at the age
aliyah in 1952. He is former head of the of only 62, there is no telling what his
path will be thereafter. Today, none of
Zionist Organization of Americas edu-
the surviving ex-presidents play any
cation department. E-mail•
active role in public life.
alpert@techunix.technion.ac.il

Haifi



658660

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