Yitzhak Navon

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Yitzhak Navon
Yitzhak Navon 1.jpg
5th President of Israel
In office
24 May 1978 5 May 1983
Prime Minister Menachem Begin
Preceded by Ephraim Katzir
Succeeded by Chaim Herzog
Personal details
Born(1921-04-09)9 April 1921
Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine
Died6 November 2015(2015-11-06) (aged 94)
Jerusalem, Israel
Political party Alignment
Spouse(s) Ofira Resnikov (1963–93, her death)
Miri Shafir (2008–15, his death)
Signature Yitzhak Navon signature.svg
Yitzhak Navon (left) and his brother Victor in Jerusalem, 1929 Yitzhak Navon1929.jpg
Yitzhak Navon (left) and his brother Victor in Jerusalem, 1929

Yitzhak Rachamim Navon (Hebrew : יצחק נבון; 9 April 1921 – 6 November 2015 [1] ) was an Israeli politician, diplomat, and author. He served as the fifth President of Israel between 1978 and 1983 as a member of the centre-left Alignment party. He was the first Israeli president to be Sephardi and born in Jerusalem, then within the British Mandate for Palestine, while all previous presidents were born in, and immigrated from, the Russian Empire. He was the first Mizrahi Jew to be elected to the presidency.

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Jerusalem City in the Middle East

Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

Mandatory Palestine A former geopolitical entity in Palestine occupied from the Ottoman Empire in WW1.

Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1923 in the Middle East roughly corresponding to the region of Palestine, as part of the Partition of the Ottoman Empire under the terms of the "Mandate for Palestine".


Personal life

Navon was born in Jerusalem to Yosef and Miryam Navon, a descendant of a Sephardic family of rabbis, and had ancestry in Jerusalem going back centuries. On his father's side, he was descended from Sephardi Jews who settled in Turkey, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. His ancestors, the Baruch Mizrahi family immigrated from Turkey to Jerusalem in 1670. On his mother's side, he was descended from the renowned Moroccan-Jewish kabbalist rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, who emigrated to then Palestine (land of Israel) and settled in Jerusalem in 1742.

Sephardi Jews, also known as Sephardic Jews or Sephardim, originally from Sepharad, Spain, or the Iberian peninsula, are a Jewish ethnic division. They established communities throughout areas of modern Spain and Portugal, where they traditionally resided, evolving what would become their distinctive characteristics and diasporic identity, which they took with them in their exile from Iberia beginning in the late 15th century to North Africa, Anatolia, the Levant, Southeastern and Southern Europe, as well as the Americas, and all other places of their exiled settlement, either alongside pre-existing co-religionists, or alone as the first Jews in new frontiers. Their millennial residence as an open and organised Jewish community in Iberia began to decline with the Reconquista and was brought to an end starting with the Alhambra Decree by Spain's Catholic Monarchs in 1492, and then by the edict of expulsion of Jews and Muslims by Portuguese king Manuel I in 1496, which resulted in a combination of internal and external migrations, mass conversions and executions.

In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The first sage for whom the Mishnah uses the title of rabbi was Yohanan ben Zakkai, active in the early-to-mid first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Asia, Europe and Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

He attended the "Doresh Tziyon" beit midrash, the "Takhemoni" school and Hebrew University Secondary School, [1] where he developed an ability in Islamic and Arab texts. Navon studied Arabic and Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He taught Hebrew literature for some years. After the Second World War ended, many survivors and displaced persons came to live in Palestine. Navon decided to join the Haganah's Arab Intelligence Unit working undercover in Jerusalem. During the war Navon was in a secret basement listening to tapped conversations of the British Army. He was fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino, French and English; an expert linguist with dovish inclinations. Later he was sent by the Israeli foreign service to Uruguay and Argentina to help hunt Nazis. Navon's wife, Ofira Navon née Resnikov, died of cancer in 1993. They had a son, Erez, and an adopted daughter, Naama. He died in Jerusalem on 6 November 2015, aged 94. [2] [1]

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israeli University in Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel's second oldest university, established in 1918, 30 years before the establishment of the State of Israel. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J. Safra Givat Ram campus.

Islamic studies Study of Islam

Islamic studies refers to the study of Islam. Islamic studies can be seen under at least two perspectives:

Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48), which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Political career

In 1951, Navon became the political secretary to 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. His judgment was crucial to advice the government received during the Suez Crisis and Lavon Affair.

David Ben-Gurion Israeli politician, Zionist leader, prime minister of Israel

David Ben-Gurion was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel.

Moshe Sharett Israeli politician, prime minister of Israel

Moshe Sharett was the second Prime Minister of Israel (1954–55), serving for a little under two years between David Ben-Gurion's two terms. He continued as Foreign Minister (1955–56) in the Mapai government.

Suez Crisis diplomatic and military confrontation in late 1956 involving Egypt, Britain, France and Israel

The Suez Crisis, or the Second Arab–Israeli War, also named the Tripartite Aggression in the Arab world and Operation Kadesh or Sinai War in Israel, was an invasion of Egypt in late 1956 by Israel, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had just nationalized the canal. After the fighting had started, political pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations led to a withdrawal by the three invaders. The episode humiliated the United Kingdom and France and strengthened Nasser.

In 1963 Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister, Navon became a civil service department head at the Ministry of Education and Culture. Navon began a long campaign fighting illiteracy in Israel, which was 12% of the Jewish population.

It's a shame and disgrace that more than 200,000 adults in Israel do not know how to read or write in any language, and we must do everything possible to erase this stain from us. [1]

Navon ordered the mobilisation of hundreds of woman soldiers serving compulsory national service to teach in new schools. Two years later, Navon was elected to the Knesset as a member of Ben-Gurion's Rafi. The new party which had dared challenge the Mapai establishment was driven by 'modernization and scientification'; it merged into the Israeli Labor Party (part of the Alignment) in 1968. [3] But the labour elite of which Navon was one, would in the future dictate the Left's agenda. Navon served as deputy speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign and Defense Affairs.

Knesset legislature of Israel

The Knesset (Hebrew: הַכְּנֶסֶת[ha 'kneset]; lit. "the gathering" or "assembly" is the unicameral national legislature of Israel. As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister, approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government. In addition, the Knesset elects the State Comptroller. It also has the power to waive the immunity of its members, remove the President and the State Comptroller from office, dissolve the government in a constructive vote of no confidence, and to dissolve itself and call new elections. The Prime Minister may also dissolve the Knesset. However, until an election is completed, the Knesset maintains authority in its current composition. The Knesset is located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. The Knesset was temporarily dissolved on May 30, 2019.

Rafi was a center-left political party in Israel, founded by former Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion in 1965. In 1968 it was one of three parties that merged to form the Israeli Labor Party.

The Israeli Labor Party, commonly known as HaAvoda, is a social democratic and Zionist political party in Israel. The Israeli Labor Party was established in 1968 by a merger of Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda and Rafi. Until 1977, all Israeli Prime Ministers were affiliated with the Labor movement. The current party leader is Avi Gabbay.

Presidency (1978–83)

On 19 April 1978, Navon was elected by the Knesset to serve as the fifth President of Israel. The race was uncontested and Navon received 86 votes in the 120-member Knesset with 23 members casting blank votes. He assumed office on 29 May 1978 and was the first president with small children to move into Beit HaNassi, the presidential residence in Jerusalem. His wife, Ofira, was active in promoting the welfare of Israeli children.

As President Navon was in a more propitious position to influence Sadat with a diplomatic approach than the revisionist Likud Premier Begin. After the peace treaty of 1980, Ha'aretz's assessment was that he achieved more in one visit than five paid by the Israeli Prime Minister.

Sadat's covenant with peace is an authentic covenant. Although the path we have decided to take is not without obstruction, Sadat and Begin have already come a long way. [1]

However the gains made were almost immediately put in jeopardy by Sadat's assassination and the sudden invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli Army. Although the Israeli presidency is a ceremonial office, Navon was an outspoken advocate of a judicial commission of inquiry to probe Israel's role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre perpetrated by Lebanese Falangists in 1982.

In 1983, Navon turned down the opportunity to run for a second term of office. Instead he returned to politics, the 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. Navon was again Minister of Education during the first Intifada on the West Bank. During the summer of 1989 there were riots and protests. Jerusalem parents appealed to Navon by petition, to reopen their schools. Navon a socialistic Jew was impressed by the legal implications: "This action is immoral and ineffective and will cause irreversible damage in the long and short run to Palestinian children and to our own." As the violence escalated moderates suffered at the hands of extremists. [4]

Remaining in the Knesset until 1992, he briefly left politics. Navon emerged from retirement to chair a Commission of Inquiry on Israeli medical authorities' controversial practice of discarding blood donated by Israelis of Ethiopian origin due to concerns about AIDS transmission. [5]

The funeral of Yitzhak Navon The funeral of Yitzhak Navon (2).jpg
The funeral of Yitzhak Navon

In 2003 the Spanish government granted Navon an award at Herzliya. [1] Navon's handling of the Egyptians, Gaza in diplomatic circles showed a statesman like demeanour, and an appreciation for the violent history of his country.

6,000 people were killed, crippled and wounded during the War of Independence. The economy was devastated — there was no milk, just milk powder. No eggs, but egg powder. Meat was only once a week. Today, it's in such abundance, you go into shops and buy whatever you want. [1]

Literary output

Navon wrote two musicals based on Sephardic folklore: Romancero Sefardi (1968) and Bustan Sefardi ("Sephardic Garden" 1970), 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 Shikmona Publishing Company and later translated into English.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Aderet, Ofer; Lis, Jonathan (7 November 2015). "Yitzhak Navon, Fifth President of Israel, Dies at 94". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  2. Lis, Jonathan (8 November 2015). "Yitzhak Navon, Israel's Fifth President, Laid to Rest at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Cemetery". Haaretz.
  3. M. Gilbert, Israel: A History, (Black Swan 1999), p.357
  4. Gilbert, Israel, p.539-40
  5. Sternoff, Daniel (29 July 1996). "Ethiopian Jews angered over blood dumping probe". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Google News. Retrieved 8 November 2015.