The election of Isaac Herzog by MPs as Israel’s new president, in the context of coalition deliberations that could seal the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s long hold of power as the country’s prime minister, is a clear piece of symmetry and certainly symbolic.
As Allison Kaplan Somer put it in the left-wing newspaper Haaretz, Herzog is the closest thing to “royalty” that Israel’s political system can conceive, part of the Ashkenazi elite that was once dominant, referring to the Jews who came from Europe. , which shaped the Israelis. been for decades after its founding in 1948.
The son of Irish-born Chaim Herzog, who served as President from 1983 to 1993, his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland for over a decade, before becoming Chief Rabbi of Palestine, and then from Israel, from 1936. to 1959.
His uncle Abba Eban, perhaps the country’s most famous diplomat, was Israel’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations and the United States.
The 120 Knesset MPs chose Herzog instead of Miriam Peretz, who is considered closer to the country’s conservative and nationalist political camp, to succeed the popular Reuvin Rivlin, who comes from the same right-wing Likud party as Netanyahu, but he was seen as his enemy. The vote will inevitably be interpreted as further proof of the end of the Netanyahu era and the politics it defined.
Netanyahu has chosen the left-leaning medium from which Herzog emerged as an enemy, in his appeal to the generally more conservative Mizrahi Jews, such as Peretz, who came from places like Morocco and have suffered widespread discrimination.
The once powerful Labor party led by Herzog, a wealthy lawyer, lost influence in the reconfiguration of Israeli policy to the right under Netanyahu.
Herzog is unusual in the macho, often fierce world of Israeli politics, in that he is perceived as softer, more respectful, and even bland than many of his contemporaries. Some observers have blamed this trait for his failure to achieve his first ambition to become prime minister.
Herzog’s political career began as Ehud Barak’s cabinet secretary between 1999 and 2000. He then ran for the Knesset on the Labor list between 2003 and 2018, climbing the ladder with various ministerial positions all the way up to lead the party from 2013-18. , which made it unsuccessful. run for prime minister in 2015.
After losing the leadership of the party, in 2018 he was appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency, a high-profile body that serves as the liaison between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, in a role that helped him continue to cultivate political connections and take the stage to national and international level. with ceremonial flourish.
Netanyahu, who unsuccessfully opposed Rivlin’s ambitions for the same role, did not express a preference between Herzog and Peretz before the election. Some observers suggested that he did not want to bet on the wrong horse for president, a position that has the power to forgive crimes under the “basic laws” of the country.
For now, the question is whether Herzog’s election marks any sign of a change in Israel’s political climate, at least in terms of domestic politics.
What is clear is ambition. In his first speech after his election, Herzog said he intended to “build bridges” within Israeli society and with the Jewish diaspora and “safeguard the foundations of our democracy,” processes that Netanyahu has been accused of undermining.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism