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Yitzhak Rachamim Navon (Hebrew: יצחק נבון; 9 April 1921 – 6 November 2015) 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.
|5th President of Israel|
24 May 1978 – 5 May 1983
|Prime Minister||Menachem Begin|
|Preceded by||Ephraim Katzir|
|Succeeded by||Chaim Herzog|
|Born||9 April 1921|
Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine
|Died||6 November 2015 (aged 94)|
|Spouse(s)||Ofira Resnikov (1963–93, her death)|
Miri Shafir (2008–15, his death)
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.
He attended the "Doresh Tziyon" beit midrash, the "Takhemoni" school and Hebrew University Secondary School, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2003 the Spanish government granted Navon an award at Herzliya. 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.
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.
- Aderet, Ofer; Lis, Jonathan (7 November 2015). "Yitzhak Navon, Fifth President of Israel, Dies at 94". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
- Lis, Jonathan (8 November 2015). "Yitzhak Navon, Israel's Fifth President, Laid to Rest at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Cemetery". Haaretz.
- M. Gilbert, Israel: A History, (Black Swan 1999), p.357
- Gilbert, Israel, p.539-40
- Sternoff, Daniel (29 July 1996). "Ethiopian Jews angered over blood dumping probe". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Google News. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
- Bar-Zohar, Michael (1978). Ben-Gurion. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
- Elon, Amos (1971). The Israelis, Founders and Sons. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
- Shimoni, Yaacov (1991). Biographical Dictionary of the Middle East. New York, Oxford, Sydney: Facts of the File, the Jerusalem Publishing House.
- Zemach, Shlomo (1945). An Introduction to the History of Labour Settlement in Palestine, Zionist Library. Tel Aviv.
- Zweig, Ronald W. (1991). David Ben-Gurion, Politics and Leadership in Israel. London, and Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, Jerusalem: Frank Cass.