NAVON, YITZHAK (1921– ), Israeli politician, writer, and the fifth president of the state of Israel; member of the Sixth to Twelfth Knessets. Navon was born in Jerusalem to an old Sephardi family of well-known rabbis that had settled in Ereẓ Israel in the 17th century. He received religious schooling until the end of primary school, and then attended the Beit ha-Kerem high school. After graduating from the Hebrew University, where he studied Literature, Arabic, Islamic Culture and Education, he became a teacher. In 1946–48 he headed the Haganah Arab Department in Jerusalem. After serving in the Israeli embassy in Argentina and Uruguay in 1949–50, he was appointed political secretary to Minister for Foreign Affairs Moshe *Sharett in 1951, and director of the prime minister's office, serving under both David *Ben-Gurion and Sharett in 1952–63. In 1963–65 he was director of the cultural section in the Ministry of Education and Culture. Navon joined the *Rafi party in 1965 and that year was elected to the Sixth Knesset in which he served as one of its deputy speakers. Within the framework of Rafi he joined the *Israel Labor Party when it was formed in 1968. In 1972 he was elected chairman of the Zionist General Council, in which capacity he served until 1977. In the Eighth Knesset Navon served as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. In 1977 Navon headed the public committee established to determine the method for determining tuition in universities. In 1978, even though the Likud was in power, Navon was elected by the Knesset as Israel's fifth president. In October 1980 he paid the first-ever official state visit to Egypt by an Israeli president. Navon decided not to run for a second term as president, resigning in 1983 in order to run for the leadership of the Labor Party, being encouraged to do so by Uzi *Baram. He finally decided not to run opposite Shimon *Peres but ran in the elections to the Eleventh Knesset. In the National Unity governments that served from 1984 to 1988 Navon was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of education and culture, continuing to serve as minister of education and culture until March 1990, when Labor left Yitzhak *Shamir's government. As minister of education he paid special attention to education for democracy, the battle against racism, and the inculcation of Jewish and universal values. After leaving the government Navon served as chairman of the public council that prepared the events in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain that was to take place in 1994. Navon did not run in the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset, and declined a proposal to run in the 1993 elections for mayor of Jerusalem. Had he run he might well have defeated the Likud candidate Ehud *Olmert. In 1996 he served as chairman of the public committee appointed to investigate the scandal of the destruction of blood donated by Ethiopian immigrants. He served as president of the National Authority for *Ladino which acts for the preservation of the Ladino language and culture.
Navon wrote the text for two popular musical plays based on Sephardi folklore, Sephardic Romancero (1968) and Bustan Sephardi ("Spanish Garden," 1970). Among his writings are
[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.