by: Nathan Williams, Director of Marketing and Communications
On July 7, 2021, Israel bid farewell to the tenth president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, affectionately known as “Ruvi.” As the bronze likeness of the former president was officially unveiled at Beit HaNasi, the presidential residence in Jerusalem, across town at the Knesset (Parliament), preparations were already underway to usher in the eleventh president of Israel, Isaac Herzog. Herzog was elected in a secret ballot with a record-breaking 83 majority vote of the 120-member Knesset. As Israel’s new head of state, he will serve a single seven-year term. Following the footsteps of the forebears of the Herzog dynasty, Isaac Herzog is destined to faithfully serve the people and State of Israel.
The history of the State of Israel is peppered with prominent families who are dedicated to rebuilding the homeland for the Jewish people. These dynasties are interwoven into the fabric of Israeli society, and in each generation, one or more of their descendants rise to the highest positions in military and public service. Isaac Herzog’s older brother, Brigadier-General (ret.) Mike Herzog, told Army Radio that all four of the Herzog siblings had been primed by their father, Chaim Herzog, to see public service as a mission in life. It was a special privilege for Isaac Herzog to be sworn in using the exact same Bible that his father, Chaim Herzog (sixth president of Israel, 1983–1993), had used for his inauguration some 38 years ago. Chaim Herzog served as a major general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and as the permanent Israeli representative to the United Nations from 1975–1978, where he famously ripped in two a UN resolution declaring that Zionism is equal to racism.
Isaac Herzog’s grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, and finally of the State of Israel from 1948 until his death in 1959. During the Second World War, Rabbi Herzog was an advocate for the plight of European Jewry, pleading with President Roosevelt to assist persecuted Jews in Europe. When the war was over, Rabbi Herzog successfully secured the assistance of the Vatican and then-Pope Pius XII to locate and return Jewish children who had found refuge in Christian orphanages and monasteries across Europe.
Isaac Herzog was born in Israel and served in the IDF, achieving the rank of major (res.). During his father’s tenure at the United Nations in New York, Herzog was enrolled in accelerated academic courses at Cornell University and New York University. Herzog is a lawyer by trade—as was his predecessor, Rivlin—having completed his law degree at Tel Aviv University. He then joined the law firm founded by his father: Herzog, Fox & Ne’eman. Isaac Herzogand his wife, Michal, who is also a lawyer, have three sons.Many of Israel’s top military and political leaders—even the most tough, bold characters—carry childlike nicknames. “Bougie” (BOO-jee) has followed Isaac Herzog throughout his political career. As a child, Herzog’s mother, Aura Herzog, thought him to be as beautiful as a doll and so mixed the Hebrew word for doll “buba” with a French term of endearment “joujou”—and so the nickname “Bougie” was birthed. In a 2013 interview with the Times of Israel, Herzog explained, “You can’t fight it. It’s just something very Israeli. I can keep introducing myself as Isaac Herzog, but people will still yell ‘Bougie’ across the street. We are just a very familiar society.” Herzog, though, prefers to be called Isaac and now goes by Mr. President.
Herzog has had an extensive political career serving in the Israeli Labor Party, positioned left of center. Having worked as the head minister of various government ministries, including Housing and Building, Tourism, Diaspora (the Jewish population outside Israel), Welfare and Social Services, Herzog has wide-ranging exposure to the full functioning of the Israeli government. In 2013, Herzog was elected as leader of the Labor Party and became the Leader of the Opposition against the right-wing government led by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Herzog was a critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the peace proposal of former US President Barack Obama and accused Netanyahu of letting his bias endanger the security of Israel.
In 2017, Herzog resigned as Leader of the Opposition and from the Knesset, as he was unanimously elected chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a position which he held until being elected president. As head of the agency, he championed rebuilding the relationship between the Jewish people in the Diaspora and the State of Israel, as well as combatting anti-Semitism globally. During a farewell ceremony on July 5, Jewish Agency CEO and Director General Amira Ahronoviz told the crowd: “In these complex times both at home and abroad, I am confident in President-elect Herzog’s desire and ability to be a unifying force for all the people of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. I, and the Jewish Agency family, wish him all the best as he moves on to the president’s house.”
President Herzog has taken the reins of the presidency during a period of unprecedented political crisis. After four elections in two years, the people of Israel have grown tired of a dysfunctional government. The current ruling multi-party coalition is held together by their joint disdain for Netanyahu, and there is a very real threat that the coalition will break apart over any one of the many ideological differences. Despite this underlying friction in the government, Herzog was received warmly during his inauguration at the Knesset, showing that Herzog is a man for the people—and that is exactly what Israel needs right now.
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