05:51 GMT17 June 2021
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    After seven years in office, the term of Israel's President Reuven Rivlin has come to an end. Now, the lawmakers will elect the new head of state, a position largely symbolic, with very little say when it comes to domestic and foreign policy.

    On Wednesday, 120 members of the Israeli parliament will determine the name of the country’s next president. Right now, there are two contenders for the top position, one of whom is a woman with no political background. And local media says she has zero chances to win that battle.

    According to Israeli law, every citizen of Israel, not just politicians, has the right to put their candidacy forward for the position. 

    Once the candidates announce their intention, the president is elected by the 120 members of the country’s parliament, the Knesset, and the vote itself is performed by secret ballot to make sure that the election process is void of any political ramifications.

    Born to Lead?

    To become president, a candidate needs the signatures of 61 Knesset members. 

    Wednesday's vote, that will start at 11 am local time, will have two contenders facing off in the battle for the top position.

    The first is Yitzhak Buji Herzog, known for his rich political career. Between 2003 to 2018 he served as a member of the Knesset and has held several ministerial positions during that period of time, including the post of Welfare and Social Services Minister.

    In 2015 he stood at the helm of the Labour party and headed the bloc that vowed to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, only to be beaten by him in polls.

    He then served as the head of the opposition, but in 2018 decided to leave politics and take a job as the chairman of the Jewish Agency, a body responsible for the link between Israel and the Jewish diaspora.

    Now he aims to repeat the path of his father, Chain Herzog, Israel's six president, and make a soft transition into the top seat.

    Is Israel Ready for a Female President?

    But he has a challenge - Miriam Peretz. She is the complete opposite of Herzog. She doesn't come from a well-connected family (hers immigrated from Morocco back in the sixties). Nor does she boast a long career in politics, as she devoted her life to teaching and public speaking, especially after she lost two of her sons who were serving in the IDF.

    She could be a different breed of a president. So far, most Israeli heads of state have been men in their sixties, Ashkenazi Jews with a relevant political background. She could be their exact opposite -- a woman with Sephardic roots who doesn't come from the establishment but is connected to the Jewish state and its people.

    The only question is whether Israeli lawmakers will be able to accept that. In the past, history showed that they haven't. All ten presidents of Israel have been men. Only three out of the 23 contenders for the position were women.

    However, it is not only a question of gender. The Israeli political scene has evolved over the years and made space for a number of prominent women, including in key ministerial positions. 

    But in the case of Peretz, the situation is much more complex. As someone who doesn't belong to the "tribe" of politicians, who doesn't have connections, and who doesn't mingle in relevant circles, getting a top job will be difficult. Many lawmakers spend their entire careers hoping to get to the presidential seat at some point in time and this is the reason why propelling an outsider like Peretz would be out of question.

    It is not that it has never happened before. Since the establishment of the state of Israel and up until 2014 there have been six out of 23 contenders, who didn't come from politics. Only one, the scientist Ephraim Katzir, has made it to the top.

    Peretz is not expected to repeat the success of Katzir. Israeli media has already stated that the battle ended before it even kicked off. But Israeli political scene is turbulent, and known for its surprises, and if that is the case, the first female President might still be an option.

    parliament, Israel, Knesset
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