‘I plan to be everyone’s president’: Isaac Herzog, son of Israel’s 6th president, elected its 11th
Isaac Herzog is set to become Israel’s 11th president after winning Wednesday’s election against Miriam Peretz, in a secret ballot among the country’s 120 lawmakers.
Eighty-seven lawmakers voted for Herzog, while 27 voted for Peretz. He will officially replace outgoing President Reuven Rivlin next month, with his seven-year term beginning on July 9.
“I plan to be everyone’s president,” Herzog said after the vote. “To listen to any position and listen to any person.” He stressed the importance of building “bridges of agreements … within us and with our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”
According to Herzog, “the challenges are great and must not be underestimated. It is essential to tend to the bleeding wounds in our society; we must defend Israel’s international standing and its good name among the nations; combat antisemitism and hatred of Israel; protect the pillars of our democracy.”
The election came as Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, faced a deadline to finalize a deal for a so-called “change” coalition aimed at ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial position, and Netanyahu — who Herzog, then head of the Labor Party, tried to unseat in 2015 — offered congratulations.
He lauded Herzog for representing Israel “in a manner that arouses respect and even admiration around the world and also within the country” and said that he is “certain that he will continue exactly in this way.”
“I wish him great success on behalf of all Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said. “I thank Miriam Peretz for her honorable candidacy and I am convinced that she will continue to contribute to Israeli society, as she has done all her life.”
Lapid also congratulated Herzog on his victory, describing him as “a worthy and wonderful man who is always focused on the good of the country and the Jewish people.” He also thanked Miriam Peretz, who he said “will forever be the president of the hearts of our people.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also extended his congratulations to Isaac Herzog on being elected president. “I have no doubt that you will work to bring love and unity to the citizens of Israel, as well as helping strengthen Israel’s security, and to strengthen ties with our brothers in the Diaspora. And a big thank you from the bottom of my heart to Miriam Peretz, for her dignified and inspiring struggle.”
Herzog is as close to Israeli aristocracy as it gets. He is already familiar with the layout of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem as the son of Irish-born Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president who served a decade-long two terms from 1983 to 1993. Before that, Herzog Sr. served as Israel’s UN representative for three years.
Isaac Herzog’s grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, was both the first chief rabbi of Ireland, for over a decade, and then Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine/Israel from 1936 until 1959. After attending elite schools in the United States, thanks to his father’s UN post, Herzog, 60, served in army intelligence, went to Tel Aviv University Law School and joined the storied law firm founded by his father, Herzog, Fox & Ne’eman, before pivoting to politics with the Labor Party.
His political career began as Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s cabinet secretary between 1999 and 2000, then running for the Knesset on the Labor slate between 2003 and 2018, climbing the ladder with various ministerial posts until ascending to the Labor Party leadership from 2013-2018 – a period that climaxed with his unsuccessful run for prime minister in 2015.
After losing the party leadership, in 2018 he was named chairman of the Jewish Agency, a role that helped him continue to cultivate political connections and to take the stage nationally and internationally with ceremonial flourish.
This all served the purpose of a long audition for the job of president, along with an effort to “warm up” his persona with plenty of photographs and videos of him embracing new immigrants to Israel.
Intelligent and articulate, Herzog suffered throughout his political career due to his perceived lacking the warmth and common touch current president Rivlin has in spades. His polite and soft-spoken style has often been mocked as weak in Israel’s alpha-male political culture. These qualities proved to be his downfall as a retail politician, combined with the absence of a Netanyahu-esque “fire in the belly” drive to be prime minister at all costs.
Herzog made the case that his diplomatic manner, education, experience and international sophistication were well-suited to the role of president, perhaps hoping he could follow in the footsteps of fellow left-wing politician Shimon Peres, who was far more beloved as president than he ever was in the Knesset.
Last week, some scuff marks appeared on Herzog’s nice-guy image in an unlikely forum: Netanyahu’s corruption trial in Jerusalem. Under cross-examination about his relationships with various politicians, former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua revealed that Herzog referred to former Labor rival Shelly Yacimovich as a “bitch” in text messages the two men exchanged. Herzog immediately apologized, calling his words “unnecessary” and “inappropriate.”
The incident appeared to do little damage to Herzog’s standing in the center-left camp.
Michael Hauser Tov contributed to this report.