• Anwar Sadat and Ezer Weizman during the Camp David Summit in 1978 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Most Popular President of All

Tal hartuv - 28 March 2023

The role of President of Israel has always and only been that of a figurehead. The president has no political clout, so much so, that for years there is a repeated discussion about the need to do away with the office completely. Yet despite the grumblings of whether there should be a president or not, the issue was never voted on. This could be in part due to the affection that many Israelis feel towards their presidents whose role is to present the noble and “good side” of Israel to the international community. But he had a distaste for anything formal, and especially pomp and circumstance. Back home, he was an informal, first-name character and a type of father figure to Israelis everywhere.

“Ezer Weizman had a distaste for anything formal, and especially pomp and circumstance”

One of the most beloved presidents was Ezer Weizman, the nephew of Chaim Weizman who was Israel’s first president. With Ezer’s humility, perfect English, humour and glossy air force carrier, when elected in 1993 he easily wiggled his way into the hearts of Israelis everywhere. There was no presidential rule book for Weizman or instructions of how he was supposed to behave. He thus invented many of the ceremonial responsibilities. Priorities were first and foremost at home and not abroad. He spent a lot of time visiting prisoners, refugees, and wounded soldiers. Three days a week he travelled to small villages all over the country to put up the Israeli flag.

Ezer Weizmann, President of Israel 1993-2000 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by IAF Magazine Photographer

Weizman had served as a pilot for the British Royal Airforce during the Second World War, and later fought against the British in pre-State Israel. He also had directed the surprise air raids on Egyptian air bases in the Six Day War. Under his command, the IDF destroyed 400 Egyptian planes in 3 hours which resulted in Israeli air superiority and the easy win of the war. After the Yom Kippur War, 6 years later, Ezer became tired of fighting. When Sadat, the down-trodden Egyptian president came to make peace with Israel, the two men became best friends. Sadat even called him “my younger brother,” and was quoted as saying “Ezer Weizman is the only Israeli I can deal with.”

Weizman is widely remembered for his cheeky sense of humour that encompassed his state visits. During the intermission at one famous conference abroad, he told the media to wait because he was looking for his wife. Finally, he spots her and calls her over. The dutiful Reuma (related to the Israeli general Moshe Dayan) runs willingly over towards him. Then, in front of the eager cameramen, President Weizman, with a twinkle in his eye, asks his beloved to turn around. He had to make a note and needed her back to lean his pencil and paper on.


“Egyptian President Sadat became best friends with Ezer Weizman and even called him “my younger brother,” saying “Ezer Weizman is the only Israeli I can deal with.””

Ezer and Reuma Weizman at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv visiting a victim of the bomb aboard a public bus on Dizengoff Street – one of Tel Aviv’s busiest shopping areas – exploded at 08.50, October 19 1994, destroying the bus and taking at least 12 lives | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Gideon Markowiz (IPPA)

Astute, brave and brilliantly witty, Ezer Weizman remains one of Israel’s most beloved presidents. But he was also a president with a broken heart. Just two years before he took up office, tragedy struck when his only son Shaul was killed in a car crash.

Just before he died in 2005, the eighty-year made sure that his last wish would be honoured. Presidents of Israel are buried on Mount Herzl as fathers of the nation. But to Ezer, no matter how much he loved his people, family was everything. He wanted to be remembered first and foremost for being a father to his dead son. According to his wishes, this cherished president of Israel was not interred in Jerusalem with the other greats of our nation, but in a modest cemetery on a coastal town, in a plot next to his son.

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