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Former Israeli President Yitzhak Navron

Yitzhak NavronYitzhak Navon, who served as the fifth president of Israel from 1978 to 1983 died Friday, Nov 6 at his home in Jerusalem. He was 94.

Born on April 9, 1921, to Yosef and Miryam Navon, Mr. Navon graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he studied Islamic culture, Arabic language and Hebrew literature.

As president he toured Israel extensively, and in 1980, after Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, he paid a state visit to Egypt as the guest of President Anwar Sadat, who described him as a “friend.” It was the first visit of an Israeli head of state to an Arab country.

Mr. Navon was a unifying figure in a polarized Israel, where ethnic tensions ran rampant between Sephardic Jewish immigrants from North Africa and Asia and the state-founding Ashkenazi elite of European origin.

For many Israelis, Mr. Navon was a man of the people who would shop at the market and chat as easily with the vendors as with heads of state.

In an interview with the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Aharonot a few months ago, Mr. Navon spoke wistfully of the city of his birth, Jerusalem.

“Once there was a time in Jerusalem of brotherhood and peace,” he said, when “cultures and languages lived side by side, and not one at the expense of the other.”

He continued, “There was a brotherhood between modest, simple people, and whoever was called to heaven was asked to pray there and act for those who remained. I, too, when I go, will ask for the welfare of those that remain.”

His words cannot be more relevant today. With the situation in Israel in the past few weeks, we could only wish for times of brotherhood and peace when cultures and languages will live side by side and not one at the expense of the other. May he rest in peace.