Ephraim Katzir; biophysicist served as Israeli president

Associated Press / May 31, 2009
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JERUSALEM - Ephraim Katzir, Israel's fourth president and an internationally recognized biophysicist, died yesterday. He was 93.

Dr. Katzir's 1973-1978 tenure spanned two seminal events in Israeli history: The 1973 Mideast war and the visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977. He left the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, after one term to return to scientific research.

"Ephraim Katzir was devoted to the state of Israel in all that he did and was a scientific pioneer," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "He also contributed to Israel's security, and his integrity and modesty set an example."

Born in Kiev in 1916, Ephraim Katzir immigrated at age 6 with his family to British-ruled Palestine and studied biology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, receiving his doctorate in 1941, according to his official biography on the Foreign Ministry website.

He served in the Haganah, the underground Jewish defense organization, where he helped to set up a military research and development unit that developed explosives, propellants, and other munitions.

During the war that followed Israel's independence in 1948, he was appointed head of the military's science corps. He served as the Israeli military's chief scientist from 1966 to 1968, the website said.

Dr. Katzir was a founder of Israel's renowned Weizmann Institute of Science and headed its biophysics department, where his work on synthetic protein models deepened understanding of the genetic code and immune responses. He was awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest honor, in 1959 for his contribution to the natural sciences.

He received the Japan Prize in 1985 for his work on immobilized enzymes in oral antibiotics.