Veteran former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 78, won the Labor Party’s backing in the race for the next president Monday, becoming the first candidate to gain the requisite 10 signatures from lawmakers in order to run for the position.

Ben-Eliezer, currently an MK, is a front-runner for the position. Other candidates include Likud MKs Reuven Rivlin and Silvan Shalom, a minister, and former MK and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, but the race is thought to be hard to call at this stage.

“I believe he will be elected,” MK Eitan Cabel said of Ben Eliezer, “and that he will be a president who brings honor to the position and to the nation of Israel.”

The previous Labor head, Shelly Yachimovich, was the only MK in the faction who did not vote in support of Ben-Eliezer, though the reason for her decision was unclear.

“Without detracting from the fact that Fuad is a worthy candidate, and without harming the dignity of the man, this topic warrants serious consideration that go beyond the accepted political boundaries,” she was quoted by Walla News as saying, using Ben Eliezer’s nickname. “This vote is already personal and confidential, and I guarantee that I will choose, after serious consideration, the most worthy candidate.”

Ben-Eliezer, born in Iraq, served as Defense Minister in 2001 and also briefly helmed the Labor Party.

Shimon Peres’s successor — Israel’s tenth president — will be chosen by the Knesset at the end of April. Peres’s seven-year term expires in July. The president is chosen by the 120 Knesset members, who tend to elect one of their own for the symbolic but resonant position.

Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner and Tourism Minister Uzi Landau are also in the running, but their chances are thought to be slim.

In January, Dan Shechtman, 2011 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, said he sees himself as a candidate for president as well.

Yifa Yaakov contributed to this report