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Monday, 31 July, 2000, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Moshe Katsav: Low-profile president

Rose from humble origins to highest office in country
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

In a surprise decision, the Israeli parliament has elected Moshe Katsav, a little-known right-wing MP, as the country's new president.

In the run-up to the vote, the Israeli media rather made fun of Mr Katsav, clearly believing the colourless, mild-mannered candidate did not stand a chance against his more famous rival, Shimon Peres.

Little-known
Born 1945 in Iran
Moved to Israel in 1951
Married, five children
Member of parliament since 1977
Candidate of Likud party
He has certainly had little claim to fame until now.

He is a veteran member of the right-wing Likud, serving as transport minister in the late 1980s and in 1996 as minister of tourism and deputy prime minister.

But some Israelis may feel that it is no bad thing to have a low-profile president.

After all, Mr Katsav's flamboyant predecessor, Ezer Weizman, was forced to resign after a financial scandal - and it was widely believed that, if Mr Peres had been elected, he would have found it hard to resist interfering in politics.

Sephardic president

Mr Katsav, in contrast, says he will not be pursuing a party-political agenda but instead will try to foster national unity.

In this respect, he is seeking to make a virtue of his own background.

Born in Iran in 1945, he came to Israel with his parents in 1951 - only a few years after the Jewish state was born.

The Jews who came to Israel from other parts of the Middle East had a hard time of it in those early years - and Mr Katsav says his task will be to build bridges between Israelis of different backgrounds.

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31 Jul 00 | Middle East
Shimon Peres: Election loser
31 Jul 00 | Middle East
Israeli election drama
26 Jul 00 | Media reports
Barak disappointed but hopeful
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