The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






President of Israel

President of the State of Israel is the head of state of Israel, but has a largely ceremonial, figurehead role with real power lying in the hands of the Prime Minister of Israel.



The President is elected by an absolute majority by the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). As of the third round of voting, if no candidate receives an absolute majority, a simple majority is enough. A president's full term is seven years. A president cannot be re-elected to a second term. Until recently, the president was elected for a five-year term, and was allowed to serve up to two terms in office.

Israeli presidents may not serve more than two consecutive terms, and any Israeli citizen who is a resident of the State is eligible to be a presidential candidate. The office falls vacant upon resignation or upon the decision of three-quarters of the Knesset to impeach the president on grounds of misconduct or incapacity. Presidential tenure is not keyed to that of the Knesset in order to assure continuity in government and the nonpartisan character of the office. There is no vice president in the Israeli governmental system. When the president is temporarily incapacitated or the office falls vacant, the speaker of the Knesset may become acting president.

For more information see Basic Law: The President of the State.

Presidential powers and roles

The president's powers are rather limited in scope compared to heads of state in other countries. The president:

  • Signs every law (except those that pertain to the president's powers).
  • Chooses a member of the Knesset to form the government in consultation with the parties making up the body.
  • Confirms diplomats and receives foreign diplomats.
  • Signs treaties, approved by the Knesset, with foreign countries
  • Appoints judges to the Supreme Court (upon advice of the Judicial Appointments Committee).
  • Appoints the governor of the Bank of Israel and other bureaucrats (upon advice of the Prime Minister).
  • Furthermore, the president has the authority to pardon criminals and commute sentences.

Presidential powers are usually exercised based on the recommendation of appropriate government ministers.

Although the president's role is non-political, Israeli heads of state perform important moral, ceremonial, and educational functions. They also play a part in the formation of a coalition cabinet, or "a government" as the Israelis call it. They are required to consult leaders of all political parties in the Knesset and to designate a member of the legislature to organize a cabinet. If the member so appointed fails, other political parties commanding a plurality in the Knesset may submit their own nominee. The figure called upon to form a cabinet is invariably the leader of the most influential political party or bloc in the Knesset.

List of Israeli Presidents

  1. Chaim Weizmann (1949 - 1952)
  2. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (1952 - 1963)
  3. Zalman Shazar (1963 - 1973)
  4. Ephraim Katzir (1973 - 1978)
  5. Yitzhak Navon (1978 - 1983)
  6. Chaim Herzog (1983 - 1993)
  7. Ezer Weizman (1993 - 2000)
  8. Moshe Katsav (2000 - )

All Israeli presidents before Moshe Katsav have been members of, or associated with, the Labor Party and its predecessors, and all have been considered politically moderate. These tendencies were especially significant in the April 1978 election of Labor's Yitzhak Navon, following the inability of the governing Likud coalition to elect its candidate to the presidency. Israeli observers believed that, in counterbalance to Prime Minister Begin's polarizing leadership, Navon, the country's first president of Sephardi origin, provided Israel with unifying symbolic leadership at a time of great political controversy and upheaval. In 1983 Navon decided to reenter Labor politics after five years of nonpartisan service as president, and Chaim Herzog (previously head of military intelligence and ambassador to the United Nations ) succeeded him as Israel's sixth president. Likud's Moshe Katsav's defeat over Labor's Shimon Peres in 2000 was an upset.

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Last updated: 05-17-2005 12:23:45