Labor leader Amir Peretz announces run for presidency

Veteran politician throws hat in the ring for largely ceremonial role, which will be vacated by Reuven Rivlin in July, as Knesset prospects for his party sink

Economy Minister Amir Peretz in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Economy Minister Amir Peretz in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party leader Amir Peretz announced Thursday that he would run for the country’s presidency, a largely ceremonial role.

Peretz, a veteran politician who is currently economy minister, made the announcement in an interview with Army Radio.

“This is one of the roles that I can fill due to my ability to create dialogue — the ultra-Orthodox, secular, right-wingers, left-wingers, they all appreciate my positions, even those they oppose,” said Peretz, 68, a former defense minister.

President Reuven Rivlin, 81, is set to complete his seven-year term in July. The Knesset must vote in another president 30 to 90 days before, by secret ballot of the parliament’s 120 members.

President Reuven Rivlin reads a report on the state of young people at risk during the coronavirus pandemic prepared by the Elem organization on July 6, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Though Peretz is the longest-serving MK in parliament, he angered many of his colleagues on the left side of the political spectrum when he joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government this year, after repeatedly vowing during election campaigns that he wouldn’t.

In August 2019, ahead of the second of three consecutive rounds of elections, he memorably shaved his iconic mustache to allow Israelis to better “read his lips” and see that he is sincere in his vow not to sit in a government with Netanyahu. He joined Netanyahu’s coalition following the March 2020 vote as part of a centrist bloc led by Blue and White head Benny Gantz.

Peretz last year also denied he would seek the presidency, when pressed by reporters over a rumor he would enter Netanyahu’s government in exchange for the prime minister’s support for his candidacy.

“I won’t be president — and he won’t be prime minister,” he said.

Polls predict that Labor will fail to get enough votes to enter the Knesset if new elections are held, a stunning fall for a party that ruled the country for its first 30 years.

While credited with having pushed the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system as defense minister, which is thought to have saved countless lives, Peretz has also been criticized for the military’s management of the 2006 Second Lebanon War under his stewardship.

Coloring the race for a role normally regarded as ceremonial is speculation that whoever becomes president may be faced with the prospect of pardoning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for graft in three criminal cases.

Along with Peretz, actor and singer Yehoram Gaon, 80, announced on Wednesday that he would run for president. Former Labor minister and law professor Shimon Sheetrit, and former Likud MK and Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick have also thrown their hats in the ring.

Israel Prize winner Miriam Peretz, an educator who lost two sons in Israeli wars 12 years apart during their military service, is also rumored to be considering running, as are Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, another former Labor Party head.

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