About Yitzhak Navon, 5th President of Israel, יצחק נבון
Yitzhak Navon, 5th President of Israel
Yitzhak Navon (Hebrew: יצחק נבון, born 9 April 1921) is an Israeli politician, diplomat and author who served as the fifth President of Israel between 1978 and 1982 as a member of the center-left Alignment party. He was the first Israeli president to be born in Jerusalem, then within the British Mandate for Palestine, and the first not to have been born in and made aliyah from the Russian Empire.
Born in Jerusalem, Navon is a multilingual descendant of a Sephardi family of rabbis. On his father's side, he is descended from Spanish Jews who settled in Turkey after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The family (Baruch Mizrahi family or Al Mashraki) moved to Jerusalem in 1670. On his mother's side, he is descended from the renowned kabbalist Haim Ben Attar. The Ben-Atar family came from Morocco to Jerusalem in 1884. Navon studied Hebrew literature and Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After serving in the Haganah in Jerusalem, he was sent by the Israeli foreign service to Uruguay and Argentina.
In 1951, Navon became the political secretary of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The following year he was appointed Ben-Gurion's bureau chief. He remained in this position under Prime Minister Moshe Sharett. In 1963, he became a department head at the Ministry of Education and Culture. Two years later, Navon was elected to the Knesset as a member of Ben-Gurion's Rafi, which merged into the Israeli Labor Party (part of the Alignment) in 1968. Navon served as deputy speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign and Defense Affairs.
In 1978, at the age of 57, Yitzhak Navon was elected fifth President of the State of Israel. There was no other candidates and Navon received 86 votes in the 120-member Knesset with 23 members casting blank votes. He was noticeably younger than his predecessors, bringing to the President's residence his wife and two relatively young children - which changed the atmosphere of the official Presidential home.
Yitzhak Navon served during a period of heightened political, social and ethnic polarization, public controversy over the withdrawal from Sinai and the evacuation of Jewish settlements there, and the 1982 war in Lebanon.
During his Presidency, he strove to act as a bridge between Israel's ethnic groups, religious and secular, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, left and right, Jews and Arabs. Striving to draw those on the periphery into the mainstream of Israeli life, he visited neglected settlements and disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, encouraging community self-confidence. Navon's warmth and diplomacy and the prestige of his office did much to defuse a potentially explosive situation on the eve of the withdrawal from Sinai. He also opened the President's residence to writers and performers from across the cultural spectrum.
One of the highlights of his term of office was his state visit to Egypt in 1980 at the invitation of President Anwar Sadat. He impressed his hosts with his eloquent Arabic, breaking the ice and demolishing stereotypes of Israelis and Jews as a "foreign element" to the region. He also paid an state visit to the United States, at the invitation of President Reagan.
While most of his energies were channeled to promoting harmony and consensus-building in a time of social and political tension, Yitzhak Navon was the first Israeli President to depart from the ceremonial role of the Presidency prescribed by law. Taking a public stand on a controversial political issue and indirectly criticizing the government, Navon called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry on the events in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, when Christian Phalangist forces massacred Muslim refugees in an area under Israeli control. This was an act that has ushered in an era of a more "political" Presidency.
In 1983, Navon turned down the opportunity to run for a second term of office. Instead he returned to politics, the first and only Israeli ex-president to do so. When the polls showed that Navon was more popular than Labor chairman Shimon Peres, Peres was pressured to step aside and allow Navon to take over the party leadership. Navon's fluency in the Arabic language made him especially popular among Arab and Mizrahi voters. But Navon did not accept the chairmanship. In 1984, he was elected to the Knesset and served as minister of education and culture from 1984 to 1990. He remained in the Knesset until 1992, after which he left politics.
He was one of the architects who planned the events marking the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and signed the first cultural agreement between Israel and Spain.
He now serves as chairman of the National Authority for Ladino, Neot Kedumim (a biblical landscape reserve), the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, and as honorary chairman of the Abraham Fund for the promotion of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Mr. Navon is the father of a daughter, Na'ama, and a son, Erez. His wife, Ofira, who died of cancer in 1993, was a clinical psychologist.
Navon wrote two musicals, which were successfully performed at Habimah, Israel's national theater in Tel Aviv. He is also the author of "The Six Days and the Seven Gates" (1979), a modern legend of the reunification of Jerusalem, first published in Hebrew by "Shikmonah" Publishing Company, later translated into English.
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