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fifth President of Israel
Yitzhak Rachamim Navon was born to Yosef and Miryam Navon in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem on April 19, 1921. His father was a descendant of exiles from Spain who came to the city from Turkey in 1670, and his mothers family arrived from Morocco about 200 years later. He studied Arabic and Islamic culture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and then spent several years teaching Hebrew literature at a night school for working students.
In 1946 Navon was drafted to head the Arabic Department of the Haganah, a position he held until the conclusion of Israel's war for independence in 1948. He was then posted for a short time to Israeli missions in Uruguay and Argentina.
Navon's political career began in 1951, when he became Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett's political secretary. In 1953 he became Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister's Office, a position he held until David Ben-Gurion's resignation in 1963. From 1963 to 1965 he served as head of the culture division of the Education and Culture Ministry. While serving in this capacity he initiated the "Illiteracy Eradication Operation," which was aimed at helping adults acquire an education. From 1965-1978 he served as a member of Knesset, first with the Rafi Party and then on behalf of the Labor Party. During that time he served as Deputy Speaker for seven years and as Chairman of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee for four years.
On April 19, 1978, Navron was elected to succeed Ephraim Katzir as President of Israel. At 57, he became the nation's youngest President. He was also the first President not of recent European origin. In his May 29 inaugural address to the Knesset he appealed to Israel's Arab population and to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to ensure the success of the negotations for peace between the two nations. During his term in office Navon spent much time touring the country and worked tirelessly to build bridges between the many ethnic groups in Israel. The first Israeli President to depart from the ceremonial role of the Presidency prescribed by law, he often took a public stand on a controversial political issue and was not afraid to indirectly criticize the government. In 1980 he was a guest of Anwar Sadat in an impressive state visit to Egypt. During the Lebanon War of 1982, following the massacre committed by the Christian Phalange militia in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Navon demanded that an official inquiry committee be convened to ascertain the circumstances of the massacre, a demand which led to the formation of the Kahn Committee.
Navron chose not to run for re-election in 1983 and became the only ex-President to return to the Knesset, as a member of the Labor Party. In addition to serving in the Knesset, until 1992, he also served as Deputy Prime Minister and as Minister of Education. As Minister of Education he initiated the "Culture Basket" Endeavor, which strengthened the study of Arabic and the teaching of Eastern Jewish heritage and acted to emphasize democratic values and Jewish-Arabic co-existence.
Yitzhak Rachamim Navon died in Jerusalem on November 6, 2015.
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This page was last updated on July 18, 2017.