The 1964 Basic Law provides that the president is the titular
head of state. The president is elected through secret balloting
by an absolute majority of the Knesset on the first two ballots,
but thereafter by a plurality, for a term of five years. Israeli
presidents may not serve more than two consecutive terms, and
any resident of Israel is eligible to be a presidential candidate.
The office falls vacant upon resignation or upon the decision
of three-quarters of the Knesset to depose 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 exercise presidential functions.
Presidential powers are usually exercised based on the recommendation
of appropriate government ministers. The president signs treaties
ratified by the Knesset and laws enacted by the legislature except
those relating to presidential powers. The president, who has
no veto power over legislation, appoints diplomatic representatives,
receives foreign envoys accredited to Israel, and appoints the
state comptroller, judges for civil and religious courts, and
the governor of the Bank of Israel.
Although the president's role is nonpolitical, 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.
As of 1988, all Israeli presidents 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 (see Glossary)
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.
Data as of December 1988