Isaac Herzog: A second generation president
Isaac Herzog made history on Wednesday when he became Israel’s first second-generation president-elect.
Long before he actually announced his candidacy, it was generally assumed that Herzog would become Israel’s 11th president.
He never made a secret of the fact that this was his ultimate ambition, although he would have preferred to be prime minister before he became president.
He has followed in the footsteps of his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, in many respects.
Chaim Herzog was the key spokesman for Israel during the 1967 Six Day War. Isaac Herzog, who served in the elite intelligence Unit 8200, was one of the major spokesmen for Israel during the Second Lebanon War. Chaim Herzog was a lawyer by profession. Isaac Herzog is also a lawyer by profession.
Chaim Herzog was a Labor MK before his election to the presidency. Here, his son outdid him, because he was not only a Labor MK, but served as leader of the Labor Party, and leader of the opposition, and before that minister of social welfare, diaspora affairs, construction and housing and tourism. Prior to all that, he was cabinet secretary.
For the past three years he has also served as chairman of the Jewish Agency in which capacity he worked closely with Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and was at the airport to greet them when they arrived.
Herzog also traveled abroad extensively to cement relationships with those communities with which he was already familiar, and to forge new relationships with those communities with which he had not previously engaged.
Unlike his father, Herzog was not officially a diplomat but, in his various roles as a public servant, participated in diplomatic events, and as opposition leader he met almost every foreign dignitary who came on an official visit to Israel.
And, of course, there were sensitive security issues in which there was no division of opinion between Left and Right, meaning that in his meetings with these foreign dignitaries Herzog echoed the line taken by the prime minister and defense minister.
At the Jewish Agency, where both his father and mother also once worked in the pre-state and early-state periods, Herzog outdid his father, by virtue of being the chairman.
Like his father, who wrote several books, Herzog also has several books to his credit, and aside from what he’s written, like his father, he is a voracious reader.
He has also been elected president at a younger age. His father was 65. Herzog is 60.
The Herzog family has a long history of public service.
It’s a well-known fact that his paternal grandfather, for whom he was named, was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, but what is less known is that the family has a centuries-old history of public service – both official and unofficial.
After the Second World War, Herzog’s grandfather, accompanied by Herzog’s uncle Yaakov Herzog (who later became famous as Israel’s eloquent ambassador to Canada), went to Europe to search for child Holocaust survivors, many of whom had been taken in by convents and monasteries. The nuns and the priests were reluctant to give them up and denied that they were Jewish. Rabbi Herzog stood in front of all the children and recited the Shema prayer. Those who came from traditional or Orthodox homes spontaneously joined him, and he was thus able to restore their heritage and bring them to the Land of Israel.
It’s hardly surprising that one of the two of his grandsons who bear his name chose to go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray there on the day before his election for president.