The Jerusalem Post
Herzog to assume presidency today
Third Sabra to hold post, first born after establishment of state
At approximately 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Isaac Herzog will be sworn in as the 11th president of the State of Israel, succeeding Reuven Rivlin.
After that Knesset ceremony, he will attend another ceremony at the President’s Residence, where Rivlin will welcome him as the No. 1 citizen, before the outgoing president returns to living an ordinary lifestyle. Future historians may record: On the seventh day of the seventh month at seven in the evening, Herzog, the former chairman of the Jewish Agency, formally took up his seven-year tenure as president.
Herzog is the third Sabra to hold the position and the first to be born after the establishment of the state.
Herzog is the country’s first direct second-generation president, and the second to emerge from the Jewish Agency. The first was Chaim Weizmann, the first president, whose nephew Ezer Weizman was the seventh president, and was indirectly responsible for the presidential term changing from five years with an option for a second fiveyear term, to a single seven-year term.
Herzog’s late father, Chaim Herzog, who was the sixth president, was the last head of state to serve two full five-year terms. Weizman was on his way to doing the same, but his second term was cut short by the discovery of a fiscal misdemeanor.
Second president Yitzhak BenZvi also served two five-year terms and was elected to a third, but died four months later.
Following his demise, a limit was placed on the period in which someone could serve as president. Third president Zalman Shazar also served two fiveyear terms, but Ephraim Katzir and Yitzhak Navon, the fourth and fifth presidents respectively, served one five-year term each.
Katzir returned to the Weizmann Institute to resume his scientific research, and Navon returned to politics and became education minister. Eighth president Moshe Katsav was the first to be sentenced to prison, on charges of sexual misconduct. Following his release, he has led a quiet life tending to his garden. Shimon Peres, who was a month shy of his 84th birthday when he became ninth president, was the oldest person to serve as the No. 1 citizen, and the only one to have previously served as prime minister.
Rivlin has a long history of public service in a variety of roles.
WHILE LATE in officially announcing his candidacy, it was long known that Herzog’s prime personal ambition was to be president.
The former Labor Party chairman – as was Shimon Peres – he is also young enough to go back into politics or some other form of public service when he completes his term.
Although the president is supposed to be apolitical, other than Weizmann and Katzir, every president has been a former MK, and Weizmann certainly played politics in the endeavor to secure what became known as the Balfour Declaration.
For close to four decades, Left and Right have been better at
taking turns in the presidency than have the governments, which have long been inclined to the Right.
Rivlin was a life-long follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and a Likudnik; Peres was a Labor prime minister; Katzav was a Likud minister and MK, as had Weizman. But before that, the second to sixth presidents had all been identified with the Left.
Nonetheless, they learned to respect the importance of accepting the other and to honor the right-wing heroes of a significant part of the nation.
Herzog will be doing the same. His first official duty will be to speak at a memorial ceremony for Jabotinsky.
But, inasmuch as possible, he will spend the first week or two learning the ropes of his new position, familiarizing himself with the names and faces of staff members and learning what they do, responding to congratulatory messages from world leaders and also delivering messages to them about the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran, and any other item of national importance.
As far as staff is concerned, on the morning after he moves into the President’s Residence, Herzog will host a half-day staff seminar so new people who are still in the process of transitioning, as well as members of the permanent staff, some of whom are about to serve their fourth president, will get to know each other.
Once he gets around to the day-to-day business of the presidency, which will be very soon, Herzog told The Jerusalem Post that his priorities will be dealing with mending rifts in the nation, defending Israel’s good name, fighting delegitimization and enhancing the positive spirit of the country.
Like his father and Rivlin, Herzog is a lawyer by profession. So is his wife, Michal, who for the past 13 years has been the Israel director of the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Philanthropic Foundation.
There is nothing in the law to prevent her from continuing with her work, but she expects that as the wife of the president, she will have so many duties to perform that she will not be able to fulfill her role as director as she would like. But the people behind the Wohl Foundation are reluctant to let her go and are looking for ways to help her so she can do whatever is necessary both as a presidential spouse and the director of a charitable foundation.
The Herzogs have three grown sons who will not be joining them in Jerusalem. The only president whose children lived in the residence was Yitzhak Navon, whose children, Na’ama and Erez, occasionally acted mischievously – to the delight of guests, who were pleased to see a natural family atmosphere in the residence.
HERZOG’S LANDSLIDE victory, in which he scored more votes than any of his predecessors, was due to his ability to make friends and influence people across the political spectrum.
Initially, it seemed Herzog would have a very smooth run into the office of the president.
But few politicians here – past or present – can escape controversy. In Herzog’s case, it’s his choice of spokesman. The last person in the world that anyone on the Left would expect Herzog to choose is Naor Ihia, who was spokesman for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.
Ihia, 32, was responsible for some of the most vicious diatribes against the media, the justice system and Netanyahu’s political rivals.
The appointment could cost Herzog brownie points with the public, or it may be generally realized that a true professional spokesman is like a weather vane and turns in accordance with the way the wind blows.
Herzog, who has been a cabinet-secretary, MK, minister and opposition leader comes to his new post with a heavy weight of responsibility – not only because of the turn of events in Israel, the region and the Jewish world, but also because he comes from a family of leaders.
His paternal grandfather, for whom he is named, was Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi and the author of the official prayer for the State of Israel. His father, before he was president, was a high-ranking military officer and then ambassador to the UN. His paternal grandmother was the founder and president of World Emunah.
AT A farewell event that was given for him by the Jewish Agency this week, a portion of a letter that Herzog had been asked by Makor Rishon to write to his grandfather on the occasion of Israel’s 70th anniversary was read out loud by Yehuda Setton, COO and chief program officer of the Jewish Agency.
In it, Herzog wrote about his pride in his grandfather’s leadership, and his regret that he had never known him personally, but declared that his grandfather’s spirit hovers over him all the time, because not a day goes by in which he does not receive some memento of his grandfather’s halachic rulings, his scientific research, a letter he wrote or a newspaper clipping.
For all that, he walks a different path than that of his grandfather, he wrote, because different generations have different interests, and because times change.
Herzog has also written and spoken extensively about his father. Asked whether he would emulate his father’s presidency, he noted what he had written to his grandfather about going on his own path, and said: “I cherish my father, but he had his plan and I have my plan.”