The Institution of the Presidency in Israel  
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 The Institution of the Presidency in Israel 

Origins of the term 

The Hebrew term for President, "Nasi", comes from the Bible. The Hebron-resident sons of Heth addressed Abraham as "a Nasi of God you are among us." The heads of the tribes of Israel were also called Nesi'im 

During the Second Temple Era and throughout the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras, "Nasi" was the title of the head of the Sanhedrin - the man leading the high religious and judiciary authority among Jews in the Land of Israel. 

The first Zionist Congress bestowed the title of "Nasi" upon Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, the founder of the World Zionist Organization.

 In his book "Altneuland" Herzl laid out his vision for the Jewish state, and envisioned a congress being able to choose a President, or Nasi, once every seven years. The President's role, according to Herzl, would be largely ceremonial, he would be above political strife and would stand for national unity.

The establishment of the Institution of the Presidency in Israel 

Upon the foundation of the State of Israel the Provisional State Council decided on May 16, 1948, following the recommendation of the Provisional Government, to elect Dr. Chaim Weitzman, who had served for many years as President of the World Zionist Organization, as "President of the Provisional State Council." In the final days of the War of Independence, after the elections for the Founding Assembly (which was the first Knesset), the Knesset on February 17 elected Weitzman as the first President of the State of Israel.

The conception of the Israeli legislator as to the President of the State, expressed at the deliberations of the constitution committee of the Provisional State Council, was that: "The roles of the President will be those of a non-partisan Head of State, who represents the country and the people as a whole, inwardly and without" (From the platform for debate at the Constitution Committee, which formed part of the proposed constitution composed by Dr. Leo Cohen).

 In 1951 the Service of the President of the State Law 5713-1951 was passed. This law dealt not with the powers of the President of the State, but only with his term of service and manner of election.

 On June 16, 1946, the Knesset passed "Basic Law: The President of the State".

The figure of the President 

The choice of President is in the hands of the Knesset members, and thus would appear to be political. However, the symbolic and representative meaning of the institution of the Presidency has had the effect of ensuring that the presidents elected were usually men of high spiritual stature, who had contributed to the Zionist endeavor and to the State, and have won much favor among all sectors of the nation.

Many of the world's Jews regard the President not just as the President of the State of Israel but as the President of the Jewish People.

The President acts by virtue of his personality and position to represent and speak for Israel to heads of state, senior figures and institutions around the world.

 

The President's actions are geared at strengthening mutual commitment among the citizens of Israel, identification with the State and its official emblems, social cohesion, national pride, and ties between Israel and the Diaspora; to nurturing moral values, equality and peace throughout society, improving ties between the Jewish majority and the minority populations, and to encourage Israeli culture and creativity.

 

The institution of the Presidency is a complementary institution in the structure of the regime in Israel, and the President is tasked with roles and powers that other governmental institutions cannot take upon themselves, both at times of stability and in times of crisis and dispute. The power of the President of the State is derived in large part from his being non-partisan, and his being a symbol of national unity representing the core values of the State.

 

The Supreme Court had this to say about the institution of the Presidency in its decision:

"The President represents the State, and its moral and democratic values… In his role he represents a non-partisan official nature, and the lines that connect and unify the various streams of Israeli society. In his personality he is supposed to reflect the good, the beautiful, the moral and unique aspects of the public in Israel. He is supposed to serve as a model and an example through the manner in which he fills his role, as well as in his personal conduct." (SC case 5699/07 Doe (a) vs. the Government Legal Counsel).

Basic Law: President of the State - main points 

·         Section 1 of the Basic Law defines the status of the President as Head of the State.

·         Any Israeli citizen who is a resident of Israel is eligible to be nominated for President of the State.

·         Ten Knesset Members are allowed to nominate a candidate for the position of President of the State.

·         The President is elected by the Knesset by secret ballot, and following his election he swears allegiance before it.

·         The President's term in office is seven years. In the past (until the law was amended in 1998), the term was five years, and it was possible to be elected to more than one term).

·         Basic Law: The President of the State anchors the independence of the President of the State, and bestows substantive immunity regarding anything connected to his duties and powers. This immunity extends after the President's term as well. The meaning of this immunity is that the President does not answer to any court regarding anything in the course of his duties or the use of his powers. The intent of the substantive immunity is to protect the status of the President as the head of state, above the other branches of government. In addition to the substantive immunity, during his term in office the President enjoys procedural immunity, and cannot be put on trial while his term is in effect.

Powers of the President 

Basic Law: President of the State enumerates a series of duties and powers granted to the President of the State, including:

The signing of laws;

Filling the duties reserved for the President in Basic Law: The Government;

Receiving a report from the government on its meetings;

Credentialing the diplomatic envoys of the country and receiving the credentials of diplomatic representatives sent by foreign countries to Israel; Credentialing the State's consular delegates and upholding the appointment of consular delegates sent by foreign countries to Israel;

Signing treaties with foreign countries approved by the Knesset;

Carrying out any duty reserved to the President by law regarding the appointment of judges and other officials and removal of same from office.  

In addition, the Basic Law gives the President the authority to pardon convicted offenders and commute their sentences.

The Basic Law goes on to state that the President "Shall carry out any other duty and enjoys any other power reserved to him by law."

Many of the President's powers are ceremonial powers in nature, but some are unique powers which leave issues to the discretion of the President of the State.

The power most identified with the President is the power of clemency. As mentioned above, the President has the power to pardon criminals and commute their sentences. Entailed in the power is the authority to limit the prison term of life prisoners. In the execution of this power the President is given wide, unique, and independent discretion.

It should be noted that the Criminal Registry Law and Returnees Regulation also grants the President the power to shorten the limitations and expunging periods set by law. 

Another power left at the discretion of the President is that set by Basic Law: The Government, to appoint the members of Knesset to form a government, following consultation with the representatives of the parties in Knesset.

In addition, as mentioned above, there is a long list of laws reserving other powers and duties to the President, the main ones of which are as follows:

Appointment of judges, kadis, rabbinical court judges and military judges, which have been chosen by the selection committees set in law, who swear allegiance before the President prior to their appointment.

The appointment of the Governor of the Bank of Israel, the president of the National Academy of Science, members of the council of the Chief Rabbinate, members of the assembly of the Broadcasting Authority, members of the Higher Education Council, members of the National Council for Civilian Research and Development, members of the council of the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, the president of the "Israeli Red Magen David" society, trustees and members of the Wolf Fund board and others (selected by the appropriate authorities set in legislation).

 According to the Encouragement of Ethical behavior in the Public Service Law, 5752-1992, the President is empowered to give letters of commendation to those whose complaints were found to be based in fact by the legally appointed authorities, for their contribution to maintaining ethics in public institution in Israel.

According the Knesset Law 5754-1994, the President opens a new session of the Knesset.

Presidential Powers - List of Laws 

Basic Law: The Government

Basic Law: Jurisprudence

The Criminal Registry Law and Returnee Regulation 5741-1981

The Release From Prison On Parole Law, 5761-2001

The Defense of the Public from Sex Offenders Law, 5766-2006

The Crime Victims Rights Law, 5761-2001

The Knesset Law, 5794-1994

The Encouragement of Ethical behavior in the Public Service Law, 5752-1992

The Rabbinical Judges Law 5715, 1955

The Druze Religious Courts Law, 5723-1963

The Kadi Law, 5721-1967

The Military Tribunals Law, 5715-1955

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law, 5740-1980

The Bank of Israel Law, 5770-2010

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority Law, 5725-1965

The Israeli National Academy of Science Law, 5721-1961

The Higher Education Council, 5718-1958

The National Council for Civilian Research and Development, 5763-2002

The Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority Law, 5783-1983

The Red Magen David Law 5710-1950

The Israeli Center for the Advancement of Human Culture, 5719-1958

The Wolf Fund Law, 5735-1975
 

Basic Law: The President of the State

 

 

 

 

 



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