JERUSALEM (Jan. 14)
Ezer Weizman, the father of Israel’s air force and an architect of the peace accord with Egypt, has been selected as the Labor Party’s candidate for the post of state president.
Weizman, a former Cabinet minister who left the right-wing Likud bloc to become a Labor Party dove, received 52 percent of the vote in the 1,300-member Labor Central Committee, compared to 24 percent for centrist Shlomo Hillel and 23 percent for ultra-dove Arye (Lova) Eliav.
Weizman, 68, the nephew of Israel’s first president, will square off in March against Likud Knesset member Dov Shilansky, a former Knesset speaker in a secret ballot among the parliament’s 120 members.
Labor floor managers believe they can count on the solid support of coalition members in addition to that of the Arab Knesset members for Weizman’s candidacy.
Independent observers said some centrist Laborite Knesset members might have considered voting, in the secret ballot, for a less dovish candidate than Weizman, but they would be unlikely to vote for the hawkish Shilansky.
In addresses to the Central Committee, Hillel presented himself as the man likeliest to win broad support in the Knesset and in the nation.
A onetime Mossad intelligence agent and diplomat, Hillel was subsequently a Labor minister and then speaker of the Knesset. He is presently chairman of Keren Hayesod.
A FURTHER SUCCESS FOR PERES
Eliav recalled his long record of social work throughout the country, portraying himself as a man of the people and suggesting that if he were president, the office would take on an open and popular character.
Weizman referred to his record in the military and in government, stressing his championship of the cause of peace from the time of the 1978 Camp David negotiations to the present day.
“I am pleased and excited,” the ever-cheerful Weizman said after the vote.
Some political observers described Weizman’s victory as a further success for Shimon Peres, who had openly supported him. Peres also had strongly backed Knesset member Nissim Zvilli, whom the Central Committee recently elected to the post of party secretary-general, over the opposition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The premier took no public position on the presidential candidacy. But some pundits felt he would be unhappy to see Weizman elected. It was Weizman, back in 1974, who first published the account of Rabin’s brief emotional breakdown on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War.
Weizman announced his retirement from politics 11 months ago, saying he was deeply concerned about Israel’s fate and image in the years ahead.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve reached a point in my political life where I’ve contributed what I can,” he said in a valedictory speech from the Knesset podium last Feb. 3.