The election in August 2000 of Moshe Katzav as Israel's 8th President, defeating the famous Shimon Peres in a Knesseth vote, 63-57, surprised everybody. The vote coincided with dissatisfaction over Prime Minister Barak's handling of the failed Peace talks at Camp David earlier in the month. Barak had backed Peres.
Katzav was born in Iran in 1945 and came to Israel in 1951 where his family had settled in the religious town of Kiriat Malachi. Katzav's rise to eminence may be compared to the American process of log cabin to White House!
He graduated from the Ben Shemen Agricultural School and, after military service, obtained a degree in economics and history from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. At the age of 24 he became (Likud) Mayor of Kiriat Malachi, the youngest mayor in ministerial posts in Likud governments culminating as Minister for Tourism and Trade in Netanyahu's government from 1996-1999.
I met him in Tbilisi, Georgia in September 1998 when he led a large delegation of Georgian businessmen from Israel which contracted billions of dollars business between Israel and Georgia. I was a member of the World Sephardi Federation delegation.
The President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnaze. the penultimate Soviet Foreign Minister under President Gorbachev had decided to celebrate the forthcoming millennium in a unique way. As members of the Georgian Orthodox Christian Church, they decided to honour their 2,500 year old Jewish community, which had never suffered anti-Semitism, through four days of state celebrations. It was a wonderful experience with many notable events organised by the Government. It concluded with a State Banquet.
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