A new, somewhat surprising contender has joined the race to become Israel’s next president next year.
Yehudah Glick, a former Knesset member and longtime advocate for Jewish rights on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, has told right-wing lawmakers that he will run for the job when Reuven Rivlin’s tenure ends in the summer of 2021, Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, has learned.
The president, a largely symbolic figure, is elected by Knesset members once every seven years.
Glick, asking the lawmakers to support him, said he was the only candidate who fits the role.
“Over Rosh Hashanah I sat with myself for two whole days and decided I will run for the job,” Glick told the Knesset members. “I see what is happening today in the nation. I am pained by the divisions and the rifts.
“I miss the days when we were a model society, a society of solidarity, when we strove to be a light unto the nations rather than fighting and hating one another,” he said. “We can go back to that.”
Contacted by Zman Yisrael, Glick refused to comment.
Other rumored candidates for the presidency include Labor party leader Amir Peretz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog.
Glick, 55, a United States-born religious Zionist, was a lawmaker for the ruling Likud party from 2016 to 2019. He was elected as the representative of West Bank settlements, but quickly proved to be open to all opinions and sectors, which made him a popular figure, especially outside Likud ranks.
Glick, unlike other Likud members, denounced Israel Defense Forces soldier Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a disarmed, wounded Palestinian attacker.
He angered Orthodox religious conservatives — the community from which he comes — by refusing to boycott Reform Jews. He also defended the leaders of the left-wing rights group B’Tselem when fellow right-wing MKs wanted to revoke their citizenship.
If Glick is elected, he will likely become the first president to enter the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. It is also the third-holiest site for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary and many of whom reject the notion that it is holy to Jews.
Glick gained prominence through decades of struggles for Jewish prayer rights at the site, where Jews are currently allowed to visit — during limited hours, on a predetermined route and with heavy restrictions — but not pray or display religious or Israeli national symbols.
During those years, Glick has often visited the Temple Mount, protested near it, launched hunger strikes and quarreled with police and law enforcement bodies. He has been barred many times from the site for weeks or months at a time.
He insists that he seeks Jewish-Muslim coexistence at the site, without limiting Muslim entry or prayer.
He is nevertheless viewed as an extremist by many Palestinians, and incitement against him almost cost him his life in 2014 at the hands of a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, who shot him at close range following a conference in Jerusalem.
Glick was critically injured but made an unlikely full recovery.
He was again assaulted this year while paying a condolence visit to the East Jerusalem home of the family of Iyad Halak, a disabled Palestinian man shot dead by Border Police officers who say they mistook him for an attacker.
The Palestinians and Jordan would likely be angered if Glick is chosen as president, especially if he keeps going to the Temple Mount in the new role.
On Thursday, Glick arrived near the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City and blew a shofar in protest of Jewish entry being barred during the country’s renewed lockdown to curb skyrocketing coronavirus infections.
Glick and his wife, Hadas Disin, were handed a NIS 500 fine each for breaking the lockdown restrictions barring residents from going more than a kilometer away from their homes. The officers ignored the couple’s explanations that they were protesting, an activity exempted from that rule.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.