The election of Isaac Herzog by lawmakers as Israel’s new president, against the backdrop of coalition deliberations that could seal the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s long hold on power as the country’s prime minister, is a fine one. piece of symmetry and certainly symbolic.
As Allison Kaplan Somer put it in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, Herzog is as close to “royalty” as the Israeli political system can imagine, being part of the once-dominant Ashkenazi elite – referring to the Jews who came from Europe – who shaped the Israeli. the state for decades after its founding in 1948.
Son of Chaim Herzog, of Irish descent, who served as President from 1983 to 1993, his grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog was Ireland’s first Chief Rabbi for over a decade, before becoming Chief Rabbi of Palestine, then Israel, from 1936 until 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 over Miriam Peretz, considered closer to the country’s conservative and nationalist political camp, to succeed popular Reuvin Rivlin, who comes from the same right-wing Likud party as Netanyahu but was seen as his enemy . The vote will inevitably be interpreted as further proof of the end of the Netanyahu era and the policies he defined.
Netanyahu made the left-wing midfielder of whom Herzog emerged the enemy, in his appeal to the generally more conservative Mizrahi Jews – like Peretz – who came from countries like Morocco and suffered widespread discrimination.
The once powerful Labor Party that Herzog, a well-heeled lawyer, had led, has lost influence in reconfiguring Israeli politics to the right under Netanyahu.
Herzog is unusual in the macho and often ruthless world of Israeli politics in that he is seen to be gentler, respectful and even tasteless than many of his contemporaries. Some observers have blamed this trait for his failure to achieve his first ambition of becoming 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, rising through the ranks with various cabinet posts until ‘to lead the party from 2013 to 2018 – which made him fail. candidate for the post of Prime Minister in 2015.
After losing party leadership in 2018 he was appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency, a leading body that liaises between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, in a role that has helped him continue to cultivate. political ties and to take the national and international arena. with ceremonial flourish.
Netanyahu, who unsuccessfully opposed Rivlin’s ambitions for the same role, did not express a preference between Herzog and Peretz ahead of the election. Some observers have suggested that he does not want to support the wrong horse for the president, a position that holds the power to pardon criminal offenses under the country’s “basic laws”.
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 “to safeguard the foundations of our democracy” – processes that Netanyahu was accused of undermining.