As Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog is tailor-made for transformation
By David E. Kaplan
A new President, a new Prime Minister and for the first time in Israel’s history, something extraordinary – a NEW religious Arab Muslim party (Ra’am) in Israel’s ruling coalition government. People can disagree on multiple issues of what is evolving, what they cannot disagree is where it is heading – CHANGE.
Exactly what that change will be, nobody is too sure.
As Israel awoke the morning after ‘chaos in the Knesset’ to a new political reality, I received emails from friends and family abroad, all variation of a theme:
“Nu, what does this mean?”
For the most part I replied it was a case of ditching deadlock.
The country is moving on, first a new president now a new Prime Mister and we will have to wait how this political theatre plays out. True, most of the cast remains the same actors; but there is a touch of Shakespearean irony here with Herzog’s ascendancy to the Presidency recalling the Bard’s – “The play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king…”. In 2015, Herzog vied to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and as chance would have it, he was elected President a few years later on the day that a coalition united in a bid to remove the veteran Prime Minister from power!
Further irony for this writer, “Enter Isaac Herzog” was the title of my interview with Isaac Herzog back in 2007 when he was then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Antisemitism. The article was for Haaretz magazine and it was concerning Jewish youth around the world focusing on “nurturing tomorrow’s leadership”.
Face to the Future. Former Jewish Agency head, Labour chief and son of the 6th President, Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog – seen outside the Knesset – says that he’ll work to ‘build bridges’ within Israeli society and with Diaspora.
All these years later, “enter” the former Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party as Israel’s 11th President!
From the stable he comes he has inherited the family mettle. The son revealed in the 2007 interview an illuminating story about his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s 6th president, and the birth of a nation.
On the 11 March 1946, a car bomb exploded beneath the Keren Hayesod wing of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The bomber, an Arab in the employ of the American Consul was a trusted person at the Agency. “He said he had stuff to deliver and needed to park as close to the building as possible.” Why should they have doubted him? Only two weeks previously, he had supplied weapons to the Hagana (pre-curser to the Israeli Defence Force). What they did not know was that he was a double agent, and that ignorance resulted in eleven fatalities, including the Director of Keren Hayesod, Leib Jaffe.
Emerging from the Rubble. March 11 1946, Arab terrorists bombed the headquarters building of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Jerusalem killing eleven and wounding eighty-six. Among the injured was Isaac Herzog’s mother, Aura who was rescued under the rubble by his father, the future 6th President of the State of Israel.
“My father had been the Chief Security officer of the Jewish Agency at the time of the bombing. Luckily, he was in the toilet when the bomb exploded,” says Isaac. Not so fortunate was his mother, Aura, who was buried under the rubble.
“My dad had to dig her out. She was unconscious and remained in hospital for six months. After riding in the ambulance with her to the hospital, he then had to rush afterwards to an important meeting with a representative from the United Nations. He had no time to change, so his clothes were covered in my mother’s blood. The UN man took one look at my Dad and said:
“If this is the way you come dressed to a meeting, no one will deter you from winning this war”.”
How right this UN representative was!
Ever since, the UN has been mostly wrong about Israel and it was Herzog senior who in 1975 gave his memorable firebrand speech to the UN General Assembly rejecting the resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was described by prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore as “one of the great speeches of the 20th century.”
Herzog stated that the resolution’s supporters were motivated by the “two great evils” of “hatred and ignorance”, something that has not changed to this day. So poetically and poignantly he ended his speech with:
“For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such,” before tearing the draft resolution in two.
The wife he earlier saved three decades earlier in the rubble in Jerusalem, Aura Herzog became a social activist and in 1968, she founded The Council for a Beautiful Israel – a public non-profit organization focused on improving the quality of life in Israel – and remains at 96, its international president. This family name has a presidential ring about it!
The Israel Connection. An old generation cellphone, Isaac Herzog being interviewed in 2007 by the writer, on ‘connecting’ with Jewish youth around the world. (photo D.E.Kaplan)
No less enlightening, his Egyptian-born mother is the one who gave Israel’s new President his popular nickname “Bougie” by mixing the French word for doll “poupee” with its Hebrew equivalent “buba”.
In his acceptance speech as Israel’s 11th President, Bougie said:
“I intend to be the President of all Israelis, to lend an attentive ear to every position and respect every person. To join the connecting lines and build bridges of consensus, in order to bring in even the most distant amongst us, as well as our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”
These words resonated with the writer recalling what he had expressed back in the 2007 interview. Sitting in a restaurant in his hometown of Tzahala, a neighbourhood in north Tel Aviv, he said, referring to the Internet and the World Wide Web:
“Press ‘enter’ today and you are connected to the world; that’s the good news. The bad news,” he continued, “is that in the new age of instant connectivity, too many Jews in the Diaspora have become disconnected – from their religion and their community.”
While the majority of Jews today live in democracies enjoying unprecedented freedom, “it has not come without a price. Too many have become alienated, a challenge to Jewish leadership the world over.”
This remains a challenge that as Israel’s 11th President, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog can pursue with the full weight of his office.
From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A youthful relaxed then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against antisemitism, Isaac Herzog being interviewed by the writer at a restaurant in north Tel Aviv in 2007. (photo D.E. Kaplan)
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