Former President Yitzhak Navon at his office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yitzhak Navon
Yitzhak Navon and Benny Gantz

Former President Yitzhak Navon (R) with former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in June 2013. (David Vaaknin/POOL/FLASH90)

Yitzhak Navon, the Jerusalem-born fifth president of the State of Israel, passed away at his home on Saturday at the age of 94.

“With our heads bowed in deep sorrow, we report the death of my dear husband, our father, our grandfather, the fifth president of the State of Israel Yitzhak Navon,” the family of Israel’s fifth president stated upon his death on Saturday.

“Yitzhak Navon was a man of action and spirit; a novelist and a playwright, an educator and a peaceful statesman who loves his fellow man,” the statement continued.

Navon, Jerusalem-born and raised in the neighborhood of Nachlaot, served as president from May 1978 until 1983.

Before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Navon belonged to the underground Irgun fighters for national liberation and then to the Haganah, which eventually became the Israel Defense Forces.

Navon, who was also a successful playwright, held a degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Arab Literature and Islamic Culture.

Yitzhak Navon and family

Navon celebrates in Jerusalem with his family on Israel’s 34th Independence day, April 24, 1982. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

He served as the assistant for political affairs of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett in 1951 and as the director of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, under Prime Ministers David Ben Gurion and Moshe Sharett (1952–1963). In his role as head of the Culture Department in the Ministry of Education and Culture (1963–1965), he initiated the programs to overcome illiteracy by having soldiers provide adult education in newly established municipalities and in development towns. He was elected to the sixth Knesset (Israeli Parliament)  in 1965 as a member of the (defunct) Rafi party and later joined the Labor Party when it formed in 1968.

During the eighth Knesset (1974–1977) Navon served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He was also chairman of the World Zionist Executive Committee in 1972–1977.

“Yitzhak Navon, the State of Israel’s fifth president, created a new style and practice for the presidency,” President Reuven Rivlin stated. “Yitzhak was a noble man, unceremoniously aristocratic, a president who came from the people, and whom the people greatly loved and appreciated.

“Yitzhak 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.

Yitzhak Navon

Navon lights first Hanukkah candle at President’s residence in 1078. (Saar Yaacov/GPO)

“Yitzhak 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…

“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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the following statement:

“I would like to express deep sorrow over the passing of Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and send my condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren. As David Ben-Gurion’s secretary, minister of education and president, Navon was a full partner in shaping the State of Israel as a free, Jewish and democratic state. I was always impressed by the depth of his education, his openness to everyone and his deep love for the people of Israel and its heritage. As president, author and playwright he was active in advancing unity among Israel’s various communities, commemorating Sephardic Jewish communities and in promoting awareness of the history of the Jerusalem in which he was born and lived his life. Navon will be remembered as one of the elite of the nation and among its senior builders. May his memory be blessed.”

Navon is survived by his wife Miri Shafir; children Erez and Na’ama, and grandchildren. His first wife, Ofira, passed away in 1993.

By: United with Israel Staff
(With files from the Knesset and Government Press Office)