Isaac Herzog, Miriam Peretz announce candidacy for presidency as race warms up

Jewish Agency chief and ex-Labor leader Herzog seen as frontrunner, followed by Israel Prize winner Peretz; ex-Likud MK Yehudah Glick drops out ahead of midnight deadline

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Agency chairman and former Labor Party chief Isaac Herzog formally announced his candidacy Wednesday to become Israel’s next president, ahead of a midnight deadline.

Activist Miriam Peretz, a recipient of the 2018 Israel Prize who lost two of her sons during their IDF combat services, also announced her candidacy, while another hopeful said he was dropping out of the race.

The election for the presidency is warming up, with candidates having until Wednesday night at midnight to submit the signatures of at least ten Knesset members in order to formally file their candidacy.

The parliamentary vote for the next president will be held in a secret ballot among the 120 members of Knesset on June 2, just over a month before President Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term ends on July 9.

Several candidates are known to be in the running in addition to Herzog and Peretz: Former Labor minister and judicial expert Prof. Shimon Shetreet, and renowned singer and actor Yehoram Gaon, whose candidacy is supposedly being promoted by Likud officials.

Another hopeful, former Labor MK Michael Bar-Zohar, said he was quitting the race and throwing his support behind Herzog. Former Likud MK Yehudah Glick announced later Wednesday he too was dropping out.

The Likud party whip, MK Miki Zohar, has announced that the 29 Likud lawmakers will not be obliged by any party decision and may vote freely. The vote for the presidency is anonymous.

Herzog is considered the frontrunner and is the most popular and well-known candidate. Many also consider him the person most suited for the position. He has wide familiarity with international politics, as well as vast experience in Israel’s complex politics. His late father, Chaim Herzog, served as Israel’s sixth president. His grandfather, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, beginning his tenure even before the establishment of the state.

Herzog said Wednesday that he had taken unpaid leave from the Jewish Agency until after the presidential election.

“My personal family history and years-long public experience have taught me to never take the miracle of the existence of the State of Israel for granted,” he said in a statement, highlighting the need to heal and unite the nation following the Gaza fighting and the extended political crisis, as well as the need to strengthen ties with world Jewry.

Miriam Peretz seen during the rehearsal held at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in honor of Israel’s 66th Independence Day. May 1, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Peretz formally submitted her candidacy later Wednesday after securing enough signatures.

“This is not how I imaged the declaration of my candidacy for the position of president of the State of Israel,” she wrote on Facebook, referring to the ongoing fighting in Gaza between Israel and the Hamas terror group. “But just at this time, when our country is divided, is the time for unity.”

She said if elected, the President’s Residence would be a “home of peace and unity.”

Peretz is another strong candidate who may gain broad support from the right. MK Amichai Chikli (Yamina) is one supporter who is close to the Peretz family, specifically her son Elihai Peretz. He told The Times of Israel that he is not actively engaged in her campaign. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Yamina’s top two members, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, had also lent their signatures to her candidacy. Peretz would be the first woman to be elected as Israel’s president. In 2007, then-Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik served as acting president for several months following the resignation of Moshe Katsav over rape allegations he was ultimately convicted for.

In a tweet announcing he was dropping out of the race, Glick wished good luck to “all the excellent candidates” and did not endorse anyone.

Glick, a prominent Temple Mount activist who was a Likud MK in the 20th Knesset — until 2019 — had maintained a daily presence in the Knesset corridors for the last couple of weeks. In his meetings, he handed out a colorful postcard with his name and positive messages, along with candies. A week ago, on the day rockets were fired at Jerusalem, Glick — like everyone present in the Knesset — was led into the safe zone in parliament, where he met a group of ambassadors and took a selfie with them.

Glick did not receive public support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any other senior Likud officials.

Shetreet told The Times of Israel that he had the signed support of more than 10 MKs.

“Our forms will be submitted tomorrow,” he said Tuesday.

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