Yitzhak Navon passes away

November 8, 2015 Agencies
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Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon has passed away at the age of 94.

After serving in the Haganah in Jerusalem, he was sent by the Israeli foreign service to Uruguay and Argentina.

Yitzhak Navon

Yitzhak Navon

In 1951, Navon became the political secretary of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The following year he was appointed Ben-Gurion’s bureau chief. He remained in this position under Prime Minister Moshe Sharett.

In 1963, he became a department head at the Ministry of Education and Culture. Two years later, Navon was elected to the Knesset as a member of Ben-Gurion’s Rafi, which merged into the Israeli Labor Party (part of the Alignment) in 1968. Navon served as deputy speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign and Defense Affairs.

On 19 April 1978, Navon was elected by the Knesset to serve as the fifth President of Israel. There was no other candidates and Navon received 86 votes in the 120-member Knesset with 23 members casting blank votes. He assumed office on 29 May 1978 and was the first president with small children to move into Beit HaNassi, the presidential residence in Jerusalem. His wife, Ofira, was active in promoting the welfare of Israeli children.

Although the Israeli presidency is a ceremonial office, Navon was an outspoken advocate of a judicial commission of inquiry to probe Israel’s role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre perpetrated by Lebanese Falangists in 1982.

In 1983, Navon turned down the opportunity to run for a second term of office. Instead he returned to politics, the only Israeli ex-president to do so. When the polls showed that Navon was more popular than Labor chairman Shimon Peres, Peres was pressured to step aside and allow Navon to take over the party leadership. Navon’s fluency in the Arabic language made him especially popular among Arab and Mizrahi voters. But Navon did not accept the chairmanship. In 1984, he was elected to the Knesset and served as minister of education and culture from 1984 to 1990. He remained in the Knesset until 1992, after which he left politics.

In 1996 Navon briefly emerged from retirement to chair a Commission of Inquiry on Israeli medical authorities’ controversial practice of discarding blood donated by Israelis of Ethiopian origin due to concerns about AIDS transmission.[2]

Israel’s current president Reuven Rivlin said of him: “Yitzchak Navon, the State of Israel’s fifth president, created a new style and practice for the presidency. Yitzchak was a noble man, unceremoniously aristocratic, a president who came from the people, and whom the people greatly loved and appreciated.

Yitzchak was a man of spirit and action, who alongside Ben-Gurion dealt with the establishment and founding of the state, and created one of the most significant works of Jewish and Israeli culture, Bustan Sefardi (“Sephardic Garden”), which became a landmark in Israeli culture.

Yitzchak the Jerusalemite, son of Jerusalemites, strove to preserve the Jewish Ladino traditions, a tradition which created a new Israeli identity, proud of its origins, and not forgetting its roots.

Throughout his life, Yitzchak walked along with the State of Israel. Time after time, he was found at the significant crossroads in the country’s history. Always in a position of significance.

Always as a compass which did not hesitate to speak what was in his heart, nor intervene when he felt it his moral duty – even at the end of his tenure when he threatened to resign were there not to be a full inquiry commissioned following Sabra and Shatila.

The State of Israel has today lost a beloved son, a president of the people, one who never saw himself above the people, but to whom we all looked up in love and admiration.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added: “I would like to express deep sorrow over the passing of Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and send my condolences to his wife, children and grand-children. As David Ben-Gurion’s secretary, Minister of Education and President, Navon was a full partner in shaping the State of Israel as a free, Jewish and democratic state. I was always impressed by the depth of his education, his openness to everyone and his deep love for the people of Israel and its heritage.

As president, author and playwright he was active in advancing unity among Israel’s various communities, commemorating Sephardic Jewish communities and in promoting awareness of the history of the Jerusalem in which he was born and lived his life. Navon will be remembered as one of the elite of the nation and among its senior builders. May his memory be blessed.”

Former president Yitzhak Navon’s first wife Ofira died of cancer in 1993. They had two children: Naama and Erez. Yitzhak Navon was remarried in 2008 and is survived by his second wife Miri.

Yitzhak Navon: Born Jerusalem April 9, 1921. Died  November 7, 2015.

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