Yitzhak Navon, 94, Israel’s first Sephardic president, buried in state funeral

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Yitzhak Navon, Israel’s first Sephardic president and the first president to visit Egypt, was buried in a state funeral on Mount Herzl.

Navon, who served from 1978 to 1983, died Friday at 94. His body lay in state on Sunday morning before his funeral at noon. Along with his family, the mourners included current and former Israeli leaders.

In his eulogy at the funeral, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Navon “a jewel that adorned our capital, Jerusalem.”

Navon served in four Knessets, becoming one of the Labor Party’s most respected members. He served one term as president; he chose not to vie for the position a second time, preferring to serve again in the Knesset. During his presidential term, he threatened to resign unless an investigation committee was set up to look at the events that took place in 1982 at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, where an Israel-allied Lebanese Christian militia massacred hundreds of people.

Netanyahu also remembered Navon earlier Sunday, at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“Israel’s heritage was his guiding principle as president, especially the heritage of Sephardic Jewish communities, and he also worked to advance this heritage among all parts of the nation as deputy prime minister, minister of education and culture and – of course – as president,” the prime minister said.

“I will always remember the clarity of his spoken Hebrew. The love of Jerusalem was embedded deep in his heart; this was the city in which he grew up and lived, and wrote books to which he was deeply linked. He will be remembered as a president who brought people together; his memory will be enshrined in the heart of the nation.”

The current Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, who also eulogized Navon at the funeral, said in an earlier statement that Navon “created a new style and practice for the presidency. Yitzchak was a noble man, unceremoniously aristocratic, a president who came from the people, and whom the people greatly loved and appreciated.”

Navon, Israel’s fifth president, was born to a Sephardic family who had lived in Jerusalem for over 300 years.

He worked as a teacher and in the 1940s became an officer in the Haganah, which later became the Israel Defense Forces. He was one of the closest advisers to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and also served as private secretary to Israel’s first foreign minister, Moshe Sharet.

Navon was the author of several books and a play.

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