Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.
It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.
But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.
Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.
Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?