AUSTRALIAN Jewish leaders have congratulated Isaac ‘Bougie’ Herzog on his election as the 11th president of the State of Israel, saying, “No one could be better placed than Bougie to bring a touch of healing to a very fractured society.”
Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency and former head of Israel’s Labor party, last week secured 87 votes of the Knesset’s 120, the most a presidential candidate has ever won. He defeated Miriam Peretz, a social activist and an Israel Prize-winning educator, who received only 26 votes.
The son of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, and the grandson of Israel’s first chief rabbi, he will succeed Reuven Rivlin when the latter’s term ends on July 9.
In his first speech after being elected, Herzog said he intended “to build bridges” within Israeli society and with the Jewish Diaspora, to encourage entrepreneurship, “fight antisemitism and hatred of Israel”, and “safeguard the foundations of our democracy”.
Stating, “Australia congratulates President Herzog,” ambassador to Israel Paul Griffiths described his election as a “wonderful outcome”, noting his “strong ties to Australia”.
“It runs in the family – in 1986 his dad was the first Israeli president to visit Australia,” Griffiths said.
Noting, “Isaac Herzog continues a distinguished family tradition,” Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) national chairman Mark Leibler told The AJN this week, “There is no such thing as royalty in Israel. But if there had been, the President-elect and his family would be first in line to qualify.”
AIJAC NSW chairman Paul Rubenstein told The AJN he and Herzog were partners together at the Israeli law firm Herzog Fox & Neeman between 1995 and 2002, and “have remained in good contact ever since”.
“Bougie’s considerable political experience and pragmatism together with his strong credibility in both the Jewish world and across the political spectrum make him the ideal authoritative and conciliatory head of state that Israel needs and deserves in these challenging times,” Rubenstein said.
Declaring, “Mr Herzog will be a president for all Israelis,” Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) president Jeremy Leibler commented, “His refusal, while party leader, to engage in dirty politics, and his determination to build bridges, both within Israel and between Israel and the Diaspora, have already marked out his leadership. I congratulate him and all of Israel on his appointment.”
ZFA CEO Ginette Searle added, “He has demonstrated an excellent understanding of the unique nature of the Australian Jewish community, and we enjoyed a close working relationship with him as chair of the Jewish Agency.
“Not only has he visited Australia on multiple occasions, but we were delighted that as chair of the Jewish Agency, he met our senior delegation in 2019, and spoke to the Australian Jewish community in a ZFA webinar last year.”
Meanwhile, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin told The AJN he has enjoyed numerous private meetings with Herzog and “found him to be astute and sincere with a phenomenal command of contemporary and historical issues”.
“He honoured me greatly by launching my first book in New York through the World Jewish Congress and by endorsing my recent [book about the] history of Zionism, which showed his great humility and generosity,” Ryvchin said.
He added, “As a former leader of Labor, he knows only too well the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of Israel’s political system and the need for broad alliances to truly serve the national interest.”
In a letter to Herzog, Keren Hayesod-UIA World Board of Trustees chairman Steven Lowy and world chairman Sam Grundwerg wrote, “We are confident in the values you will bring to the position. Your commitment to the State of Israel, our people and leading in a kind and generous manner will certainly help guide you as Israel’s next president. We look forward to continuing to work together for the people of Israel.”
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said, “We wish President-elect Herzog fortitude and success as he goes in the words of the Bible, ‘from strength to strength’. We thank outgoing President Reuven Rivlin for his tremendous and tireless efforts on behalf of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. His statesmanship and sage guidance will be sorely missed. We wish him good health and fortune in all his future endeavours.”
Melburnian Eitan Drori, chairman of Global Israeli Leadership (GIL), also welcomed Herzog’s appointment, crediting him during his time as chairman of the Jewish Agency “as the one who really brought Israelis living abroad – including in Australia – to the table, and cultivated and supported the Israeli community worldwide”.
“We at GIL look forward to working with president Herzog to continue strengthening connections between Israel and what his predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, described as the fifth pillar of Israeli society – its diaspora communities,” Drori said.
One-on-one with Bougie in this week’s AJN.