By Charly Wegman, Agence France Presse (AFP)

JERUSALEM: Israelis continued to speculate Wednesday on who might succeed President Moshe Katsav, who faces a possible indictment for rape, with Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel the latest name to enter the fray. Quoting sources in the entourage of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Maariv daily said the author and human rights campaigner was one of the premier’s top choices to succeed Katsav in the largely ceremonial post.

Wiesel, an American who could easily receive Israeli citizenship under Israel’s law of return, “has not received any request on the matter, formal or otherwise,” according to the newspaper. “The idea is still being examined.”

The 78-year-old Wiesel, author of more than 40 books, gained fame for “Night,” his memoir of surviving the Auschwitz death camp during World War II.

He was born in Romania and lived in France after being freed from Auschwitz as a teenager. He later emigrated to the United States, and became a citizen in 1963. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

If Wiesel is offered the presidency, it will mark the second time in Israeli history that a non-citizen was invited to become head of state.

In 1952, four years after Israel was founded and its first president, Chaim Weizman, died, Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein was offered the job. Considered one of the world’s greatest scientists, and recipient of the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics, he declined.

The 60-year-old Katsav has faced enormous pressure to resign after police said Sunday that a weeks-long investigation had produced enough evidence to charge him with rape, sexual harassment and wire-tapping – the most serious charges ever leveled against an Israeli national leader.

Prosecutors have begun to draft an indictment, which will be presented to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz within two to three weeks. Mazuz will then decide whether to press formal charges.

Katsav, who rose from obscurity to become Israel’s first president from a right-wing party in July 2000, has vigorously denied the allegations and has vowed to clear his name.

“The president was surprised and shocked by the police recommendations,” his office said earlier this week.

“He repeats that he is a victim of a plot and that sooner or later the allegations against him will be proven false,” he said.

Katsav’s attorney has said the president would step down immediately if the attorney general indicts him.

A poll published in Wednesday’s Yediot Ahronot daily said 66 percent of Israelis think Katsav should step down.

The spate of scandals has also led to an increase in voter apathy and mistrust, according to polls. Only 63 percent of eligible voters voted in March parliamentary elections, a 6 percent drop from 2003 and the lowest voter turnout in Israeli history.

Among other top possible successors to Katsav reported in the Israeli press were Shimon Peres, an ex-premier and Nobel peace laureate whom Katsav defeated in an upset election for the presidency in July 2000.

Another leading suggestion is Natan Sharansky, a Soviet-era refusenik from the right-wing Likud party who announced this week that he would retire from political life.



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