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A Jewish president isn’t unusual

Dave Gordon - Saturday, 16 January, 2016

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US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders became the first Jew to win a presidential primary, and given that he is only one of two Democratic hopefuls in the race, there is a real possibility of a Jew in the White House in 2016.

Though, this milestone was sure to have been met with eyeball rolling from a few countries, looking upon the great and enlightened United States – with its six million strong Jewish population – as behind the curve.

After all, Italy, France, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, and Russia all have had multiple Jewish heads of state in the past century or so.

Of all places, with relatively few Jews, such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guyana, the Dominican Republic and Norway, have all had Jewish heads of state.

We know some of the stories of antiquity, with Jewish leaders of lands other than Israel.

The most famous are Joseph, as viceroy of Egypt; and Moses, the prince of Egypt; and in the fifth century BCE, Queen Esther to Ahashveros.

Among others are:

  • In the early first century, Queen Julia Bernice II, had married the Cilician king, Polemon II of Pontus.
  • Queen Shushandukht ruled Persia (and some of Mesopotamia) in the fifth century.
  • Beginning around the fourth century, Jewish kings and queens reigned in Ethiopia for about a millennia.
  • King Abu Karib ruled Yemen in the fifth century, and a hundred years later, King Dhu Nowas.
  • Queen Dahiya Kahina of the early eighth century, reigned in Algeria.

In modernity, there are/were dozens of Jewish prime ministers, presidents and vice-presidents outside of Israel.

As best as we can find, here is a list of Jewish heads of state from outside Israel, with some latitude for high-ranking officials that were a heartbeat (or two) from becoming head of state, and those who came close.

Roughly three dozen Jewish heads of state outside Israel, with a few “almosts”:

Great Britain/United Kingdom

  1. Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister in 1868; 1874 to 1880
  2. Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading, Viceroy of India, 1921 to 1926

Almost: Ed Millbrand, opposition leader of Great Britain


  1. Ruth Dreifuss, president, 1999

Italy (3, in succession)

  1. Alessandro Fortis, prime minister, from 1905 to 1906
  2. Sidney Sonnino, prime minister, in 1906 and from 1909 to 1910
  3. Luigi Luzzatti, prime minister, from 1910 to 1911


  1. Leon Blum, Prime Minister, June 1936 to June 1937, 1938, 1946-1947
    2. René Mayer, Prime Minister of France in 1953
  2. Pierre Mendès France, prime minister from 1954 to 1955
  3. Michel Debré, prime minister from 1959 to 1962
  4. Laurent Fabius, prime minister from 1984 to 1986

Almost: Nicolas Sarkozy, president, 2007-2012 (born to a Jewish father)


  1. Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, prime minister from 1835 to 1836

New Zealand

  1. Sir Julius Vogel, premier from 1873 to 1876
  2. Sir Francis Bell, prime minister in 1925
  3. John Key, prime minister from 2008 onwards

North Americas: (almosts)

  1. Barry Goldwater – GOP presidential candidate, 1964, Jewish father
  2. Eric Cantor, former Speaker of the House [3rd in line to the presidency], 2011-2014
  3. Madeleine Albright (1997-2001) and Henry Kissinger (1973-1977) as Secretary of States [fourth in line of succession]
  4. Joe Lieberman, 257 votes away from VP of the USA (2000)
  5. Herb Gray – Deputy Prime Minister of Canada from 1997 to 2002 [second in line]


  1. Juan Lindo y Zelaya, president of El Salvadore, from 1841 to 1842; and President of Honduras from 1847 to 1852
  2. Ricardo Maduro, President of Honduras from 2002 to 2006

South/Central Americas

  • Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela from 2013 onwards
  • Janet Jagan, President of Guyana, 1997 to 1999
  • Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal, President of the Dominican Republic in 1916
  • Mike Eman, prime minister of Aruba, 2009 to present

Costa Rica (three almosts)

  1. Luis Liberman Ginsburg, vice-president of Costa Rica, 2010-14 (the grandson of the first Mohelof Costa Rica's Jewish community of 3,000)
  2. Rebeca Grynspan Mayufis, vice president of Costa Rica, 1994 -1998
  3. Saul Weisleder, president of Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, 1997 to 1998


  1. Yehude Simon Munaro, prime minister, 2008 to 2009
  2. Salomón Lerner Ghitis, prime minister in 2011
  3. Efraín Goldenberg Schreiber, prime minister, 1994 to 1995


  1. Max Delvalle, president, 1967 (for one week in April, because the National Guard General did not approve of his succeeding his predecessor)
    2. Eric Arturo Delvalle, president, from 1985 to 1988


  1. Mikhail Fradkov, prime minister, from 2004 to 2007
  2. Yevgeny Primakov, prime minister of Russia, 1999

Eastern Europe:

  1. Kurt Eisner, president of Bavaria, from 1918 to 1919
  2. Paul Hirsch, president of Prussia, from 1918 to 1920
  3. Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, prime minister of Latvia, 1921 to 1924
  4. Petre Roman, prime minister of Romania, 1989 to 1991
  5. Jan Fischer, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, 2009 to 2010

Volodymyr Groysman (2016) *update April 14


Sir Roy Welensky, Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zimbabwe), 1956 to 1963


  1. Jo Benkow – President of Norway, 1985-1993
  2. Dorrit Moussaieff- first lady of Iceland, since 2003, when she married President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson


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