Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) announced Monday that presidential elections would be held on June 10, a move that stymied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to abolish the office.
Edelstein’s announcement came a few hours after Likud veteran Reuven Rivlin officially threw his hat into the ring as a potential successor to President Shimon Peres and, in a public letter, called for the backing of his fellow MKs.
“The time has come to turn to you with simplicity and directness… and ask you for your support for my candidacy for the office of the 10th president of the State of Israel,” Rivlin wrote.
The race to find a successor to incumbent Peres has been marred by scandal and controversy over the past several months.
Earlier this month, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was aiming to postpone presidential elections for up to six months, during which time he could push through a law abolishing the presidential office — an idea quickly shot down by Finance Minister Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, a key coalition partner.
Last week, a negative campaign video targeting Rivlin was sent anonymously via email to all of the 120 Knesset members, who select the president..
The video purported to show the Likud candidate grouped alongside “top machers” — a Yiddish word that can be roughly translate as “wheeler dealer” — including the recently sentenced Ehud Olmert, the incarcerated former president Moshe Katsav, and former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, who served time for embezzlement. The clip also features news clippings about Rivlin from the past, and features the caption, “How much does it cost to buy a Knesset member in Israel?”
“It’s unfortunate that the slander campaign is continuing, with the use of cheap and lackluster means,” a statement from Rivlin’s office said in response. “Reuven Rivlin won The Movement for Quality Government in Israel’s ‘Knights of Good Government’ award for his honesty and decency. We find the testimony of MQG to be more trustworthy than a warped and biased video.”
Labor MK and presidential hopeful Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called for an investigation to unmask the creators and sponsors of the video.
“There is a smear campaign going on against the candidates,” he said. “Instead of conducting a transparent, respectable, and fair election, there are anonymous sources — it is not clear what their motives are and who stands behind it — who are trying to damage the candidates and their reputation.”
Rivlin is the frontrunner and Ben-Eliezer another contender in the upcoming presidential election.
Ben-Eliezer was recently accused of gambling in London between 1999-2002, during his tenures as deputy prime minister, communications minister, housing minister and defense minister.
Ben-Eliezer later said he was certain one of the other presidential candidates had leaked the information to Channel 2, and said private investigators had been hired to dig up dirt about him.
“When you have nothing to [hide], they can continue searching from now indefinitely,” he told Army Radio.
Another candidate, National Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), recently faced a public accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman who worked under him 15 years ago when he served as science minister. The allegations were not substantiated, and police closed their preliminary investigation, but some pundits said Shalom all but lost his shot at winning the presidency.
Shalom called the accusations part of a political conspiracy aimed at removing him from the race.
Two outside candidates looking to tap into the public’s aversion to professional politicians have thrown their hats into the ring. But the two — Dan Shechtman, a Technion professor who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and Dalia Dorner, a retired Supreme Court justice — appear to have little chance of winning.
Three other outside candidates are Meir Sheetrit, a former finance minister; Dalia Itzik, another former speaker of parliament; and energy entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz.
Peres’s seven-year term ends on July 27.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.