Yitzhak Navon, the fifth President of Israel between 1978 and 1983, passed away on Friday at the age of 94.
Navon was born in 1921 in Jerusalem, a descendant of a Spanish Jews who settled in Turkey after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. On his mother’s side, he is descended from the renowned Moroccan-Jewish kabbalist Chaim ibn Attar, who emigrated to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem in mid-1742.
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Mr. Navon studied literature, education and Islamic culture.
Navon was the private secretary of the Israel’s first foreign minister, Moshe Sharet, in 1950-2. He also served as secretary to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, for 11 years, becoming one of his closest aides.
He was a member of the sixth, ninth, 11th and 12th Knesset’s, first as a member of Rafi and then as one of Labor’s most eminent politicians.
Following the Six Day War, Navon identified himself as someone with dovish tendencies, urging dialogue with Palestinians and not with Jordan’s King Hussein.
He was elected president in 1978, and won much support among Israelis of all walks of life. In 1980, Navon became the first Israeli president to visit Egypt, where he addressed the parliament in Arabic.
Two years later, he threatened to resign unless an investigatory commission was created regarding events that year at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp.
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.
Navon wrote two musicals based on Sephardic folklore: Sephardic Romancero (1968) and Bustan Sephardi (“Spanish Garden” 1970). He is also the author of “The Six Days and the Seven Gates” (1979).
Navon’s wife Ofira died of cancer in 1993. They had two children: Naama and Erez.
President Reuven Rivlin said:
“Yitzchak Navon, the State of Israel’s fifth president, created a new style and practice for the presidency. Yitzchak was a noble man, unceremoniously aristocratic, a president who came from the people, and whom the people greatly loved and appreciated.
“Yitzchak was a man of spirit and action, who alongside Ben-Gurion dealt with the establishment and founding of the state, and created one of the most significant works of Jewish and Israeli culture, Bustan Sefardi (“Sephardic Garden”), which became a landmark in Israeli culture.
“Yitzchak the Jerusalemite, son of Jerusalemites, strove to preserve the Jewish Ladino traditions, a tradition which created a new Israeli identity, proud of its origins, and not forgetting its roots.
“Throughout his life, Yitzchak walked along with the State of Israel. Time after time, he was found at the significant crossroads in the country’s history. Always in a position of significance.
“Always as a compass which did not hesitate to speak what was in his heart, nor intervene when he felt it his moral duty – even at the end of his tenure when he threatened to resign were there not to be a full inquiry commissioned following Sabra and Shatila.
“The State of Israel has today lost a beloved son, a president of the people, one who never saw himself above the people, but to whom we all looked up in love and admiration.”