To ensure that the President is able to perform his or her symbolic role in the best possible way, it is important to distance the office as much as possible from political and social disagreements and debates.
The four recent rounds of elections, for the 21st through 24th Knesset assemblies, have spotlighted the role played by the President in forming a government. Until these recent events, the President’s role in this context was considered entirely formal. Discussions as to whether the President may/should/must exercise his own discretion in tasking a particular candidate with forming a government have reignited debate over the necessity of the presidency itself, an essentially symbolic institution.
Those in favor of abolishing the office believe that some of the President’s powers are unnecessary (such as involvement in the procedure of establishing a government), and that other symbolic powers could be transferred to other institutions (such as the speaker of the Knesset), thereby also saving public funds. Those who support keeping the presidency, point out its symbolic and unifying role, and its status as defender of the state’s fundamental values.
In order to decide whether this is an institution whose existence is justified, it is worth examining how it has developed over the years; the symbolic functions played by the President, and those functions that in certain circumstances can have far-reaching implications; the application of judicial review to the President’s decisions; and the President’s status in the political and public arenas.
The Beginnings of the Presidency
An examination of the formation of the presidency during the early days of the state reveals indications of the President’s symbolic role, as well as the identification as synonymous between the person fulfilling the role and the institution of the presidency itself. We should remember that the first President, Chaim Weizmann, was appointed before the presidency was actually enshrined in law. His appointment was, in the words of Ben-Gurion, “an historic justice, more than a constitutional change or political act,” and the substance of the position was not clear to the President himself.
In a letter that was not eventually sent, Weizmann wrote to Ben-Gurion:
"First, allow me to remind you that I did not ask to serve in my current position. This position was offered to me by you and by members of your government … I did not accept with any great enthusiasm. Not that I do not appreciate the great honor conferred by this office on the person who holds it, but the rights and responsibilities given to the President have not been made clear to me … Thus, for example, I have been told that the President is a symbol. Until now, I have not been able to understand the meaning of this opaque statement, nor who it is that decides the symbolic significance of the President."
Later in his presidency, in an interview to the New York Post (September 6, 1951), President Weizmann said that the only place that the government allowed him to stick his nose was his handkerchief. In a letter of resignation dated July 30, 1948 (which he subsequently retracted), he wrote:
I have decided to detach myself from this office which was forced on me. I am not willing to condone everything currently happening in Eretz Yisrael and accept everything the government does without being able to influence or prevent anything … In all honesty, I do not wish to create any difficulty for the new state, which in any case is knee-deep in severe problems, but I cannot resign myself to simply being a silent partner in this enterprise, which is being run along lines that I cannot support.
The lack of clarity regarding the President’s symbolic role and the lack of any defined standing in the political arena have thus been a feature of the presidency from Weizmann’s time until today. However, over the years the official functions of the President have been formalized in a Basic Law.
The President as Head of State
According to the Basic Law: The President of the State, the President is the Head of the State of Israel. Though the law does not explicitly say so, the President’s role (like that of other ceremonial heads of state in parliamentary democracies) is largely symbolic. As President Shimon Peres put it in his swearing-in speech to the Knesset:
"The President is not a governor, not a judge, not a legislator, but he is allowed to dream, to lay down values, to act with integrity and compassion, with courage and mercy. It is not forbidden for the President to perform good deeds. He is allowed, even required, to serve his people, to foster love of the people, the state, and others. To bring together those who are apart, to look to the horizon, to help the weak, comfort mourners, mend hearts, increase equality, bridge gaps, and support spiritual and scientific creativity."
While the law does not explain what is meant by “the President is the Head of state,” it is agreed that the institution of President stands above political disagreements and internal divisions in Israeli society. Thanks to this lofty and independent status, the President can represent shared values and positions that are uncontroversial. This standing lends the presidency considerable importance, particularly in times of crisis.
Election and Term of Office
The President is elected by the Knesset for a single term of office of seven years. Before an amendment to the law was made in 2001, the President could be elected for two terms of five years each. The President must be elected by an absolute majority of Knesset members (61) in a secret ballot held at a special Knesset session. If no candidate gains 61 votes in the first round, a second round of voting is held featuring just the two leading candidates. In this round, the candidate who wins the most votes is elected, even if this number is less than 61. In the past, an absolute majority was also required in the second round, and a regular majority in a third round of voting. A change to the law made in 2013 ensures that a decision will be made after just two rounds of voting.
The Basic Law: The President of the State, differentiates between two kinds of immunity—substantive (immunity regarding acts performed in the performance of Presidential duties) and procedural (immunity from criminal prosecution). Substantive immunity means that the President “shall not be answerable to any court or tribunal regarding anything concerning his duties or powers, and shall be immune to any legal action regarding such matters.” Additionally, the President “shall not be required to testify regarding anything he has learned in the course of his duties.” The President continues to enjoy this immunity even after leaving office (section 13), that is, this is immunity for life.
The other form of immunity granted the President is immunity from criminal prosecution. As long as he or she remain in office, criminal charges cannot be brought against the President. This immunity does not cover civil suits (section 14). Moreover, if the President is required to testify, this testimony will be delivered at a time and place of the President’s choice (section 15). However, the law does not rule out conducting a criminal investigation against the President while in office.
Until now, the legislature has not viewed a criminal investigation against the President as contravening the his or her immunity, though should sufficient evidence be found to warrant an indictment, the President cannot stand trial while still in office. However, it is not clear how immunity would apply in the case of criminal proceedings that were already underway when the President was elected. It is important to note that, unlike substantive immunity, the President’s procedural immunity is valid only until leaving office.
So far, two Presidents have been investigated while in office (Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katzav). No charges were brought against Weizman, who resigned from office. Moshe Katzav was indicted and convicted of serious offenses, but this took place only after he completed his term of office, prior to which he was recused for around six months.
Leave of Absence
The Basic Law: The President of the State, defines the possibility for the President to take a temporary leave of absence, during which he or she are to be replaced by the Speaker of the Knesset (section 22). Two possible scenarios are given for declaring a temporary leave of absence: the President may announce a leave of absence, which must then be approved by a majority in the Knesset Committee; or the Knesset Committee itself, based on a two-thirds majority vote, can announce a temporary leave of absence due to health reasons.
In the first case, when it is the President who initiatives the leave of absence, the President must ask the Knesset Committee to approve this notice, by a majority vote. The period of leave is that defined by the President or the Knesset Committee, whichever is shorter. In the past, the only reason for which the President could declare a leave of absence was poor health, but the law was amended in 2001 (amendment 7 to section 22), removing the words “due to health reasons.” Thus, there is no longer any defined reason for which a leave of absence is taken, and the President may declare a leave for any reason. In 2006 and 2007 President Moshe Katzav sought to declare a temporary leave of absence on several occasions, due to the criminal investigation against him.
By contrast, the only basis for the second case, in which the Knesset Committee declares a Presidential leave of absence by a two-thirds majority vote, is incapacitation due to health reasons. In other words, the Knesset Committee cannot declare a temporary leave of absence on the basis of, for example, a criminal investigation against the President.
A temporary leave of absence of up to three months can be declared, and the Knesset Committee can extend this for a further three months. Any additional extension beyond this six-month period requires the approval of a Knesset majority. The law does not set a limit for the duration of an extension which the Knesset may approve.
Ending the Presidential Term and Removing the President from Office
In Israel, the President’s term of office can be ended if he or she decides to resign (section 19) or if the Knesset removes the President from office (sections 20 and 21). There are two possible grounds for removing the President from office: conduct unbecoming the position, and poor health.
Removing the President from office due to “conduct unbecoming the position as President of the state” entails a procedure involving the members of Knesset, the Knesset Committee, and the Knesset plenum. A complaint of unbecoming conduct may be submitted to the Knesset Committee by a quorum of at least 20 Knesset members, based on which the Knesset Committee can recommend to the Knesset removing the President from office, requiring a majority of three-quarters of Committee members in favor. Removing the President requires a special session of the Knesset plenum, to be held no later than 20 days after the decision of the Knesset Committee. Approving this step requires the agreement of three-quarters of Knesset members, and the Knesset may only decide on this matter after the President has been given the opportunity to respond to the complaint before the Knesset Committee and the Knesset. In delivering this response, the President may be represented by counsel (section 20).
In the case of poor health, the Knesset Committee, by a two-thirds majority vote, may recommend to the Knesset that the President be removed from office, based on a professional medical opinion. This step then requires approval by a majority of Knesset members.
The President has a range of powers, most of which are symbolic and formal in nature, but some of which may, in certain circumstances, involve the application of independent discretion.
• Legislative approval: The President’s signature is required on all laws, excepting those that relate to Presidential powers. This signature appears alongside that of the Prime Minister or other minister, excepting documents relating to the formation of the government and the dispersal of the Knesset. The President also signs on international treaties that have been approved by the Knesset. The accepted view is that this is merely a formal power, with regards to which the President has no personal discretion.
• Signing letters of appointment of judges and religious court judges (dayanim and qadis).
• Credentials of diplomats: As head of state, the President receives the credentials of foreign diplomats to Israel and approves the credentials of Israeli diplomats to other countries.
• The President receives reports from the government about its meetings, both in writing (a summary of government decisions) and verbally (meetings with the Prime Minister or updates from the government secretary). The President is entitled to request information on a given subject, including classified information. The President generally does not express an opinion on controversial political issues.
Powers Relating to Other Branches Which May Be Significant in Certain Circumstances
The executive and legislative branches:
• Tasking a Knesset member with forming a new government
• Agreeing to the dispersal of the Knesset by the Prime Minister
The judicial branch:
• Presidential pardons
Below, we examine the President’s powers in these contexts, the extent to which the President can apply personal discretion, and the issue of judicial review of the President’s decisions.
Procedure for Forming a Government
The Basic Law: The Government defines in detail the formal procedure by which the President charges one of the Knesset members with the task of forming a government, following elections or in other circumstances in which the government resigns (the resignation or death of the Prime Minister, a final court ruling that brings to an end the Prime Minister’s term of office, or a Prime Minister being incapacitated from performing their duties).
The sections of the Basic Law: The Government, which relate to the President’s role in the formation of a government after elections (and in other cases) do not provide details about the nature and extent of the discretion given to the President. The law describes several possible scenarios:
1. Granting the mandate to form a government
“When a new government must be formed, the President, after conferring with the representatives of the Knesset factions, will grant the mandate to form a new government to one of the Knesset members who has agreed to this.” (Section 7(a))
This wording does not explicitly allow or rule out the President’s use of discretion in awarding the mandate, and is open to interpretation. According to the law, only two conditions must be met: The President must confer with representatives of the Knesset factions, and a member of Knesset must agree to take on this task. The letter of the law does not require the President to give the mandate, for example, to the candidate who received the highest number of “recommendations” from faction representatives (it is worth noting that the word “recommendations” does not even appear in the law), to the head of the list that won the most Knesset seats (or votes), or even to the head of a list. At the same time, the Supreme Court has ruled that “Section 7(a) of the Basic Law: The Government may not define the criteria according to which the President should decide whom to task with forming the government, but the requirement to confer with the faction representatives indicates that the central consideration that should guide the President is the probability that the member of Knesset in question will be able to form a government, in light of the election results.”
2. Reallocating the mandate
Section 9(a) describes the process of reallocating the mandate to form a government if the first candidate is unsuccessful or if the Knesset does not pass a vote of confidence in the proposed government. In this case, the law details the options available to the President: To award the mandate to another Knesset member who has notified the President that they are willing to take on this task; or to notify the speaker of the Knesset that there is no realistic prospect of a government being formed. Before deciding, the President is allowed (but not required) to confer with the Knesset factions. In this scenario, the President has somewhat greater room for discretion.
3. Granting the mandate to a candidate nominated by a majority of Knesset members
This scenario comes to pass if the second candidate given the mandate to form a government fails in this task, or if the President decides not to grant the mandate to a second candidate after the first candidate is unsuccessful. In this case, a majority of the Knesset (61 members) can, within 21 days, ask the President to award the mandate to a particular candidate who has agreed to this in writing. If such a request is submitted, the President has no discretion in the matter, and must grant the mandate to the Knesset member in question. In other words, this is the narrowest scenario in terms of the discretion given to the President. In effect, the majority of Knesset members forces the President to award the mandate to a particular candidate.
Agreement to Dispersal of the Knesset by the Prime Minister
Section 29 of the Basic Law: The Government, states that if “the Prime Minister becomes aware that there is a majority in the Knesset that is opposed to the government, and consequently that the government is unable to function properly, then the Prime Minister may, with the agreement of the President, disperse the Knesset.” In such a case, the Knesset is dispersed only if an alternative candidate to form a government is not put forward by a majority of Knesset members.
The Prime Minister’s power to disperse the Knesset with the President’s agreement, is a “remnant” of version of the Basic Law: The Government, that legislated direct elections. This case has not yet come to pass, and thus this section of the law has not been put to the test of reality. But it is conceivable that such a scenario would lead to a constitutional crisis, if on the one hand the Prime Minister claims that the government cannot function due to an oppositional Knesset, and on the other, the President does not agree to the dispersal of the Knesset. In such a case, according to the current version of the law, a majority of Knesset members (61) may propose an agreed candidate to form a government, but if there is no such consensus, then the political system might be deadlocked.
In this context, it is also possible to interpret the law’s wording as granting the President discretion as to whether or not to agree to the dispersal of the Knesset by the Prime Minister, and on the other hand, it is also possible to argue that the President withholding agreement would constitute an intervention in the heart of the political process.
Powers of Pardon
According to the Basic Law: The President, “The President has the power to pardon criminals and reduce or transmute their sentence.” The President is also authorized by the Crime Register and Rehabilitation of Offenders Law (1981) to reduce the periods of limitations and deletion that apply to criminal records (both convictions and court rulings without convictions).
While the act of pardon in Israel comes under the joint responsibility of the President and the minister of justice, the power to pardon is held by the President, who constitutes a “clemency branch” of the state. Requests for pardons (full or partial) usually come from convicts or their families, and are passed on to the pardons department of the Ministry of Justice together with an opinion from the Israel Prison Service. It is the justice minister who decides whether to recommend a pardon to the President, and if the President approves it, the pardon must also be signed by the minister. Thus, the President is authorized to use discretion and is not required to accept the minister’s recommendation to pardon, though in most cases, the President does accept these recommendations. However, the President is not empowered to grant a pardon without a recommendation from the justice minister.
The President’s authority in matters of pardons was the focus of fierce debate when President Chaim Herzog decided to pardon the head of the General Security Service (the Shin Bet) and three senior officers, before they were brought to trial. The petition to the High Court of Justice on this issue was rejected, and a majority of justices ruled that the President, like the British monarch or the President of the United States, has the power to pardon an individual before they are convicted, if this is in the public interest or if there are extreme personal circumstances. Justice Aharon Barak (as he was then) wrote in his minority opinion that the President is not authorized to issue a pardon prior to conviction, because the power of pardon is activated only once other state authorities have completed their role in the process.
Two approaches can be identified with regard to this Presidential power: The first, that the President is a “rubber stamp” for the recommendations of the minister of justice; and the second, that the President may exercise discretion in granting clemency.
Given the possibility that the next President elected may be asked to consider pardoning the current Prime Minister, should the latter be found guilty and given a prison sentence, the issue of Presidential discretion and authority with regards to pardons is worthy of re-examination.
Judicial Review of Presidential Decisions
The question of the President’s use of discretion in granting the mandate to form a government was first set before the High Court of Justice in 1951, and the court ruled that because this is an executive power of the President, the Court is barred from intervening in this matter. On other occasions on which the High Court of Justice discussed whether the President’s discretion is subject to judicial review, this was mainly with regard to the President’s powers of pardon, and differing opinions were offered. In any case, given the President’s immunity, the Court has ruled that the presidency should not be included in the list of respondents to a petition against a Presidential decision. However, it has also ruled that there is no barrier to examining the President’s actions indirectly, since “The President’s actions lie within the judicial realm—they are not supra-judicial or trans-judicial—and thus they are subject to judicial review by the courts.”
In other words, the President enjoys immunity as an individual, but the President’s actions and decisions are subject to judicial review. At the same time, the Court presumes that “Any intervention in the matter of the President’s use of discretion in performing his duties should be very limited, given the President’s unique status and the special symbolism inherent to the institution of the presidency and its incumbent.”
In response to a petition regarding the mandate given to Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government (after the elections to the 21st Knesset), the Court stated:
"In effect, the petitioners’ position is that the President should have ignored the results of the elections and the recommendations of the faction heads, and ruled that. Benjamin Netanyahu is barred from serving as Prime Minister because of the serious list of offences of which he is suspected.
The Court cannot accept this position of the petitioners: It is not in accordance with the character of the institution of the presidency (which is inherently apolitical); with the role of the President in the procedure for forming a government (which is focused on identifying the Knesset member with the greatest chance of forming a government); with the information based on which the President is required to reach a decision (the opinions of the various factions with regard to the candidate they recommend to serve as Prime Minister); and--- with the procedure of democratic elections, of which the President’s powers are an integral component (via which procedure the members of the 21st Knesset were elected, including Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu)."
The Court referred to the demand that the President’s decision-making include applying normative considerations as “mixing like with unlike.” According to the ruling, the President must act in accordance with the procedure described in the law, and apply only pragmatic considerations:
"No-one disagrees that the President followed the law, met with the heads of the parties, used his judgement, and gave the task of forming the government to the member of Knesset who he thought had the greatest chance of success. In this respect, he properly used the powers granted him, and we see no reason for us to intervene."
Though the Court emphasized the President’s pragmatic use of judgement, there is still disagreement on the President’s use of normative considerations. Some believe that in extreme and unusual circumstances (such as a candidate for Prime Minister facing trial for criminal offenses), the President should make decisions with far-reaching public implications in order to protect the public interest.
Democratic Backsliding: When Formal Roles Become Substantial
These examples, in which arguments developed over the extent to which President can exercise discretion in the application of their supposedly formal powers, have been rare. As Reuven Rivlin put it, ahead of being elected President in 2014:
"On the constitutional level, the President is more a symbol than a center of authority. The constitutional powers granted him, too, are largely symbolic. This is the case, for example, with the President's right to grant clemency: here the President must be guided by the position of the legal system and respect its recommendation, so that his signature is only a formality. The same applies to the President’s ostensible power to hand over the keys for the formation of a new Government. I say “ostensible,” because this authority is only apparent and rarely has any practical meaning. The history of Israeli politics shows that it is the results at the polls that determine who forms the Government. Furthermore, it is the Knesset that is charged with voting confidence or no-confidence in the Government."
However, as we have seen, such cases may occur. Even “rubber stamp” powers, such as signing laws passed by the Knesset, might in extreme circumstances (such as the passing of a racist law), become a case in which the President is required to exercise discretion and defend democracy. The more that constitutional norms are undermined (those not enshrined in law), the more the agreed norms regarding the symbolic nature of the presidency are also weakened. In other words, the very fact that Presidential discretion becomes an issue, is itself a symptom of democratic decay. Consequently, renewed public debate is required about the boundaries of the President’s powers and how Presidential discretion should be applied in these cases.
Is the President an Actor in the Political Arena?
Notwithstanding its symbolic character, there is a political aspect to the presidency. One of the contributing factors to this, is the fact that most of the Presidents elected until now were figures with a clear political orientation. Another factor is that the President is elected by the Knesset, and most of the candidates for the presidency come from the ranks of the ruling party or the main opposition party. Despite this, it is accepted practice that once elected, the President assumes an apolitical stance and refrains from weighing in on politically contentious issues.
However, throughout Israel’s political history, there have been several cases in which the President took a stand on controversial topics. Following the Yom Kippur War, President Ephraim Katzir stirred up a public storm when he declared that “we are all culpable.” President Yitzhak Navon threatened to resign unless a governmental commission of inquiry was established to examine the Sabra and Shatila massacre. President Chaim Herzog called the press “a hostile media,” joined calls for changing the system of government, and criticized the High Court of Justice’s decision to allow the Kahane list to stand in the 1984 Knesset elections.
President Ezer Weizmann’s term of office produced a raft of interventions that attracted much criticism: Calling for a “timeout” from talks with the Palestinians following the terror attacks of 1995; inviting the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, to visit him at his home after Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister in 1996; recommending that the government negotiate with Syria following the formation of the Barak government in 1999; supporting the establishment of a national unity government; and a series of sexist remarks.
President Katzav, in addition to the criminal stain that marked the conclusion of his term of office, took a number of controversial steps: reducing the sentence of Margalit Har-Shefi (accused of not preventing the crime of Yigal Amir), against the recommendation of the Israel Prison Service Release Committee; publicly supporting the end of hostilities with the Palestinians and agreeing to a truce (hudna); and expressing willingness to visit the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.
The ninth President, Shimon Peres, despite having a clear political orientation, generally avoided taking any clear stance on controversial issues throughout his term of office, though his pronouncements on major issues such as the social protests, attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the negotiations with the Palestinians drew public criticism, on the grounds that they constituted inappropriate interventions in political disputes.
President Reuven Rivlin, despite being careful to avoid any explicitly political statements, has been criticized on several occasions for his actions. He participated in a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Kafr Qasim massacre, spoke out fiercely against the Duma terror attack, and expressed criticism in his speeches of increasing politicization and polarization. Even when granting Netanyahu the mandate to form a government after the elections to the 24th Knesset, Rivlin said that he was fearful for the country’s future, and that—from a moral perspective-- his decision was not an easy one.
Despite the unifying and symbolic nature of the role, the President cannot be expected to remain silent on issues of huge importance to the future of the state. At the same time, the President should bear in mind that taking a position on controversial issues may undermine public trust, and damage the prestige of the presidency as the sole political institution in Israel with which all citizens can identify. Because the presidency is very much molded by the character of the incumbent, there is no point in trying to legislate the boundaries of what the President can and cannot say. Instead, it should be presumed that whoever is elected to the presidency will act with discretion and in an apolitical manner, in order to maintain the prestige of the institution.
Conclusion: President, Despite Everything
Unlike other state institutions, Israel’s presidency is expected to justify its existence, and some are even questioning whether it is truly needed. Those calling to abolish the office, claim that it is an impractical and wasteful institution lacking any real power. They argue that the Presidential powers are a bluff, in that the President has no real independence in decision-making and can only act based on the recommendations of others: The President approves ambassadors’ credentials as recommended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, appoints justices according to the recommendations of the Judicial Appointments Committee, pardons prisoners according to the recommendations of the justice minister, and signs off on laws already signed by the relevant minister. In their opinion, the financial cost of the Presidential office does not justify its symbolic benefits, and if symbolic functions are indeed necessary, they can be performed by the Speaker of the Knesset, the Prime Minister, or other ministers, and thus save public funds. These opponents further argue that the President, who is usually a political figure and is elected in accordance with the balance of power in the Knesset, cannot in any case truly execute the unifying symbolic role associated with the office.
On the other hand, it should not be ignored that, compared with other state institutions, the President enjoys relatively high public trust, with the exception of several years during which trust in the presidency plummeted, due to the incumbent’s involvement in criminal acts. It would appear that the image of the President as being above political squabbles strengthens public trust in the presidency. Thus, there seems to be considerable value to this institution, which represents the state as a whole and allows citizens to identify with it more than with any other state institutions. This is particularly important in Israel, due to the country’s social divisions that are reflected in the composition of the Knesset. The presidency plays a bridging role, and thus the President’s ceremonial and symbolic powers should in fact be expanded (for example, by bringing the Israel Prize Committee under his authority).
With regard to the powers that involve Presidential decision-making, there is room for renewed public discussion of this issue. The arguments over Presidential discretion in awarding the task of forming a government to a particular candidate raises the question of whether the President is simply a formal “rubber stamp,” or in certain extreme circumstances should serve as the “shield of democracy.” In effect, the view that the President is a ceremonial figurehead gives rise to two opposing positions on this matter: The first, that the apolitical nature of the presidency means that the President should perform his or her official-procedural functions (such as the formation of the government) without straying into the minefield of the democratic process; and the second, that as the defender of the fundamental values of the state, as the public’s conscience and moral compass, the President should apply broad discretion, and even make decisions with far-reaching consequences, in order to protect the state’s core values.
In any case, we have seen again that there is particular value in the institution of the presidency during political crises. The attempt made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abolish the presidency ahead of the previous Presidential elections in 2014 clearly shows that despite its largely symbolic character, the presidency provides a check to the concentration of absolute power in the hands of the executive branch. Moreover, in light of Israel’s chronic political instability and social polarization, the President constitutes an island of stability. The secret of the President’s power lies in the ability to be the most “Israeli” figure for all social groups: separate from other state bodies, yet simultaneously connected to their functioning. The President takes no side in political disagreements, yet they are not disconnected from events and are able to express their position in a manner befitting their standing.
At the same time, in order to ensure that the President is able to perform his or her symbolic role in the best possible way, it is important to distance the office as much as possible from political and social disagreements and debates. Thus, it is preferable that the person chosen as President does not come directly from having represented a political party in the Knesset, and does not return to politics after leaving office. To this end, it is recommended that a cooling-off period ahead of the Presidential elections is defined in law, such that a serving Knesset member cannot stand for election. A longer cooling-off period is required with regard to political positions after the President leaves office. These changes will also prevent the presidency being used as a “safe haven” for someone seeking to evade criminal prosecution, due to the immunity that comes with the position, and will also preclude the possibility of a politician moving from the Knesset to the presidency and then paying his or her r debts to their voters by issuing a Presidential pardon or misusing their powers in some other way.