JERUSALEM (JTA) — Reuven Rivlin of the Likud party was elected president of Israel in a campaign that was fraught with scandal.
Rivlin was elected in the second round of Knesset balloting on Tuesday, defeating Meir Sheetrit of the Hatnua party in a 63-53 runoff vote. The former Knesset speaker becomes Israel’s 10th president and succeeds Shimon Peres.
Considered a Likud elder statesman, Rivlin was one of five candidates running for the largely ceremonial post chosen by the parliament every seven years. He will be sworn in on July 24.
Eliminated in the first round of voting were former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dan Shechtman and ex-Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.
Labor Party lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer pulled out of the race over the weekend following accusations that he illegally received millions of shekels from private sources and used the money to buy a luxury apartment in Jaffa.
Last month, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom decided to end his bid for the presidency after allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced; the allegations were never substantiated.
Rivlin was first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and twice served as its speaker. A self-identified disciple of Revisionist Zionism founder Zeev Jabotinsky, Rivlin opposes territorial concessions to the Palestinians and wants Israel to retain the West Bank. He has said that he supports giving Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians.
Rivlin drew criticism from Reform and Conservative rabbis for past negative statements about Reform Judaism. He called Reform Judaism “idol worship” in 1989 and in 2007, in a run for president, would not say whether he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title if he were elected.
“I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another,” Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post in an interview published June 6. “The President’s Office represents all streams and denominations in society. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”
In a statement congratulating Rivlin, Peres said the presidency “is a position that brings with it responsibility, you have to consider your every word and every action, but you will do it successfully because you are, to your core, a good person.”
Peres also told Rivlin in the statement, “I am sure you will fulfill this role excellently.”