Isaac Herzog: Israel’s Subdued, Pedigreed New President

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement with president-elect Isaac Herzog after a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elected a new president, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021.  (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

 

 

Modest, diplomatic and with a strong political pedigree, Isaac Herzog is the new president of Israel, elected in a landslide Wednesday to the largely ceremonial position.

It’s a fitting post for the Tel Aviv-born politician, a scion of one of Israel’s most prestigious families, sometimes referred to as Israel’s version of the Kennedys.

He won easily over Miriam Peretz — a former headmistress who lost two sons in Israel’s wars and is known as “the mother of sons”.

The 60-year-old Herzog was first elected to the Israeli parliament in 2003.

Before entering the Knesset, he served as government secretary under Labor prime minister Ehud Barak, then from 2005 held portfolios including housing, tourism and welfare.

In 2015 Herzog vied to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presenting himself as a subdued, even-keeled alternative to the bombastic “Bibi”.

And as chance would have it, he was elected president years later on the day that a coalition of ideological rivals united in a bid to remove the veteran prime minister from power.

“I will be everyone’s president,” he said following his victory, tears in his eyes as he thanked his wife Michal.

“I will build bridges between different parts of our society.”

Yair Lapid, the coalition architect striving to cobble an alliance that could unseat Netanyahu, congratulated his “friend” Herzog, calling him “a worthy and wonderful man who is always focused on the good of the country and the Jewish people”.

Speaking from the Knesset, Netanyahu meanwhile wished Herzog “good luck” — to which Herzog replied: “I’ll be happy to work with every government, no matter the leader.”

“Let’s not get into it now,” Netanyahu replied.

Pro-peace talks

Herzog’s Irish-born father, Chaim Herzog, served as head of military intelligence then went on to become Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and finally the nation’s sixth president, from 1983 to 1993.

His uncle Abba Eban is a famed Israeli diplomat and statesman who served as envoy to Washington and the UN before becoming Israel’s foreign minister during a period which included the 1967 Six-Day War.

Herzog’s grandfather and namesake — Rabbi Yitzhak (Isaac) HaLevi Herzog — was Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

Herzog spent several years at school in New York during his father’s posting overseas, before returning to Israel, serving as an officer in army intelligence and eventually reading law at Tel Aviv University.

After taking the helm of the Labor party, Herzog worked to steer its focus back to peace with the Palestinians.

Barely 10 days after taking over, he met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

During his 2015 campaign he vowed to relaunch the peace process, which collapsed in April 2014, even saying he was prepared to “remove” Israeli settlements if necessary.

The supporter of a two-state solution, Herzog favours the Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank as part of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Most recently he worked as chairman of the Jewish Agency, a semi-governmental organisation whose tasks include Jewish immigration and relations with the Jewish diaspora.

Married with three children, Herzog still lives in the house where he grew up in Tel Aviv and answers to the nickname “Bougie” — reportedly given him by his Egyptian-born mother who mixed the French word for doll “poupee” with its Hebrew equivalent “buba”.

Isaac Herzog Elected As Israel’s 11th President

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 18, 2016, Israeli co-leader of the Zionist Union party, Labour Party’s leader and head of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, addresses the media in Jerusalem.
MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

 

Israel elected the even-keeled Labor veteran Isaac Herzog as its 11th president Wednesday, a parliamentary vote that coincidentally fell as opposition lawmakers scrambled to forge a coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu.

Herzog, 60, beat former headmistress Miriam Peretz to replace President Reuven Rivlin, who was elected in 2014 to the largely ceremonial position.

Wednesday’s presidential vote came as Israeli politicians from across the spectrum were holding 11th-hour negotiations to cobble together a new administration aimed at ending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 12 straight years in office.

The Israeli presidency exerts little power, primarily meeting with party leaders after legislative elections and tasking candidates with forming governments. It is the country’s prime minister who wields actual executive authority.

But the president does have the ability to grant pardons — a potentially important function as Netanyahu faces trial for alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Herzog, who will assume his position on July 9, succeeded over Peretz, 67, a former headmistress who lost two children in Israel’s wars and is known as “the mother of sons”.

The scion of one of Israel’s most prestigious families, Herzog was first elected to parliament in 2003 but was most recently leading the para-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, an organisation focused on relations with Jewish immigrants and the diaspora.

His election on the day that could see Netanyahu’s rivals make moves to take him down is fitting: in 2015 Herzog carried out a bid to oust the premier, presenting himself as a modest, diplomatic contrast to the bombastic “Bibi”.

The son of Chaim Herzog — Israel’s sixth president and a former ambassador to the United Nations — and nephew of the famed diplomat and statesman Abba Eban, the new president supports the two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians.

During his 2015 campaign, he vowed to relaunch a peace process, even saying he was prepared to “remove” Israeli settlements if necessary.

-AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Wins Election

netanyahuIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a surprise victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after tacking hard to the right in the final days of campaigning, including abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian State.

In a four-day pre-election blitz, Netanyahu made a series of promises designed to shore up his Likud base and draw voters from other right-wing and nationalist parties, including a pledge to go on building settlements on occupied land and saying that there would be no Palestinian State if he is re-elected.

Exit polls had forecast a dead heat but with almost all votes counted, results gave Likud a clear lead over its main rival, the centre-left Zionist Union.

With 99.5 percent of votes counted, Likud won 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, comfortably defeating the Zionist Union opposition on 24 seats.

It amounted to a dramatic and unexpected victory – the last opinion polls published four days before the vote showed the Zionist Union with a four-seat advantage over Likud.

The outcome gave Mr Netanyahu a strong chance of forming a right-wing coalition government.

It puts the incumbent on course to clinch a fourth term and become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minster.

In a statement, Likud said Netanyahu intended to form a new government within weeks, with negotiations already underway with the pro-settler Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, as well as with religious groups.

Despite the numbers stacking up in Netanyahu’s favor, Zionist Union leader, Isaac Herzog said “everything is still open” and that he already had spoken to party leaders about the possibility of forming a government, although, the arithmetic for him is much harder to achieve than for Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu described the vote as a “great victory” for Likud, which had trailed the Zionist Union in opinion polls in the run-up to the election.

He said the result was achieved “against all odds”.

“Reality is not waiting for us,” Netanyahu said. “The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do – and we will do so.”