On Wednesday, Isaac Herzog was elected by the Knesset to serve as Israel’s 11th president, following in the footsteps of his father, Chaim Herzog, the nations’ 6th president (1983-1993). Herzog will begin his duties on July 9, when President Reuven Rivlin’s term ends.
“I will be the president of everyone,” Herzog said, referring to the broad spectrum of political parties in Israel. “I will build bridges between different parts of our society.”
Herzog also made history with the largest victory—87 to 27 votes, three abstentions—in a presidential election in Israel. Herzog’s opponent was Miriam Peretz, a prize-winning educator, and Moroccan immigrant. She started life in Israel in a transit camp and worked her way up to a run for president. If she had been elected, she would have been Israel’s first woman president. In her concession speech, Peretz wholeheartedly threw her support behind Herzog—”his success is our success’—and promised to continue her mission to heal the divides in her adopted homeland.
Outgoing President Rivlin called Herzog to congratulate him on his new place as Israel’s “first citizen” when Rivlin passes the baton to Herzog next month. “I can tell you that the responsibility of the role that you are about to assume is unlike anything you have done until now. If the Knesset is a place of argument, as we have certainly seen recently, the President’s Residence is a place of discourse, partnership, and statehood.”
The 60-year-old Herzog has served Israel in many roles through the years—including head of the Labor Party, an opposition leader, a Cabinet minister, a member of an elite intelligence unit in the military, and a spokesman during the Second Lebanon War. He is an attorney by profession and an author of several books.
Due to the legacy of his family, Herzog and his lineage are sometimes compared to the Kennedys. Herzog’s path has been very similar to his father’s. But Herzog’s family history of service spans generations. His grandfather, whom he is named for, was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. He is perhaps most known for traveling to Europe after the war in search of Jewish children who had survived the Holocaust hidden in convents and monasteries. When the nuns or priests were reluctant or suspicious, Herzog would begin to recite the Shema—a daily prayer rehearsed from childhood in Jewish homes (taken from verses in Deuteronomy and Numbers)—and he brought back to Israel those who spontaneously said it along with him.
For the past three years, Isaac Herzog has served as the chairman for the Jewish Agency of Israel, working with those making Aliyah (immigrating) and building relationships with Jewish communities worldwide.
Unlike in America, the position of president in Israel is apolitical and mostly ceremonial or diplomatic. With one exception, the president plays a role in forming a new government, giving the nod to a party leader to try to bring together a majority coalition.
A president in Israel is more like Queen Elizabeth than former President Donald Trump. It’s the closest thing we have to royalty or a national “parental figure.” When the president travels and visits Jewish communities around the globe, crowds press in to get a picture, and events are always sold out. The president represents the character and heart of our nation to the world.