Peres sworn in as Israel's President
Shimon Peres has been at the forefront of Israeli politics for over half-a-century. He served twice as the Israeli Prime Minister, as well as holding other high-ranking ministerial positions – he served as the country's Finance, Foreign and Defence Minister.
Peres was born 84 years ago in Eastern Poland, in what is today Belarus. He speaks English, Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. His mother was a teacher of Russian literature and Russian language.
In 1994, Shimon Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the-then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat. The prize was given for the peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords.
Pope Benedict XVI has welcomed the appointment of Shimon Peres. He has urged the President to do whatever he can to jump-start peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The majority of Israelis have also welcomed their new President. What they are hoping more than anything now is that he will restore dignity to this office that was all but destroyed by the disgraced outgoing President Moshe Katsav, who has been charged with sexual misconduct.
Though the Presidential post in Israel is largely ceremonial, the President is a unifying figure and wields influence in Israeli politics. “It was made with the idea that a country needs to have a symbolic figure, like England has the Queen, other countries have Presidents. They don’t have power, but they do manage to symbolise the unity of a country with the rest of the world,” noted David Nahmlas, a historian.
“The Office of the President costs the Israeli tax payers millions of dollars every year. A lot of this is used for certain ceremonies, for President’s visits to different countries abroad, to visit other heads of states, other Jewish communities,” said Mitchell Barak, CEO, Keevon.
As surprising as it may sound, in the beginning not everyone jumped at the offer to be President of Israel.In 1948 Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin both refused. Instead, Nobel Prize Chemist Chaim Weizmann left his laboratory to take up the post. He and his successors fulfilled their duties well, staying out of political scandals and representing Israel in world ceremonies.
But things changed in 1984, when Ezer Weizmann took his position too seriously and interfered with the Prime Minister’s job. His term of office ended with a police investigation into tax evasion. Careful not to make the same mistake twice, the government then chose a new President without much personality and little backbone.
Moshe Katsav was smart enough to stay out of political scandals, but nobody expected him to be ruffling feathers of a different kind. His sexual harassment of female employers brought the Office of the President to its lowest point ever.
Today many Israelis are asking themselves if they even need one.