In two days, the Knesset is to name Israel’s president for the next seven years. The choice is between Miriam Peretz and Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog. Both candidates are good choices. Mrs. Peretz is a bereaved mother who lost two of her sons in battle, reminding us of the price that, as a society, we sometimes have to pay in order to live in a free Jewish state. Her story is indeed heartbreaking. Mr. Herzog is a seasoned politician with an impressive pedigree. He currently serves as the chair of the Jewish Agency. He is the son of Israel’s sixth president (and a former IDF general) and the grandson of our founding chief rabbi.
I would like to offer my humble support for the candidacy of Yitzhak Herzog, as he can heal Israel’s painful relations with our ultimate ally, the American Jewish community.
Despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s excellent political skills, these may be the waning days of his regime. Against his proven achievements, one should remember his many shortcomings, and especially the toxic atmosphere he had initiated. To name but a few of his failures, he promoted rancor among the various groups of our society; he attacked our outstanding judicial and law enforcement systems; and he has failed to present a national budget for a number of years.
Perhaps his most notable failure is Israel’s sour relations with the United States and its Jewish community. Some will say that Netanyahu’s clash with President Barack Obama over Iran was unavoidable and that he was within his rights, as the self-entitled “Protector of Israel”, in pursuing his message to Congress. Be it as it may, in doing so he had also brought about a split between Israel and major segments of the American Jewish community.
When asked, he explained that for as long as he had the support of Orthodox Jews and evangelicals, all was well. Hence, he was brushing aside seventy to eighty percent of American Jews.
Those of us who have devoted our careers to the brotherly relations between the two major Jewish communities were stunned. Did he really mean it? How could he say that? Recently, we were reassured that he meant exactly that; when Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, told Makor Rishon that Israel should invest in the evangelical rather than the Jewish community, as the latter, unlike the former, is critical of Israel’s policies.
In addition, Netanyahu took sides in the American political campaign in supporting Donald Trump. He thus created a split between the democrats and Israel as well as within the Jewish community. While many in Israel were grateful for Mr. Trump’s support, including on the issue of Jerusalem, we would have never risked a rupture in the decades-old bipartisan support for Israel.
Back to the relations with the evangelicals, while serving as a consul general in Chicago and deputy head of mission in Washington DC, I met with many evangelical leaders and audiences. I spoke to thousands of them all over the country, be it in St. Paul, MN or in Norfolk, VA. Their support sometimes brought tears to my eyes; nobody could stay unmoved in view of the roaring love for Israel. Moreover, evangelical political support is very important. I know this to be true, as I was there as an Israeli diplomat for many years.
However, evangelical affection seems to have more to do with some apocalyptic vision where Israel should have a role. Yet this is their vision and not necessarily ours. On the other hand, the Jewish support of Israel is of an entirely different nature. Simply put, we are family. There may be changes on both sides of the pond; Israel became less enlightened and tolerant while the American Jewish community is more engulfed in day-to-day life. Nevertheless, we could always rely on the support of our brethren in the US. We are family. We have never had a stronger alliance, and Netanyahu has hampered it.
This is where Yitzhak Herzog could make a big difference. It is true that the president of Israel does not hold a lot of executive authority beyond granting pardons and receiving ambassadorial credentials. Nonetheless, the president can set the tone and create the atmosphere among the people of Israel as well as of the entire Jewish people. Based on his background and experience, I believe Yitzhak Herzog has what it takes.
Good luck, Bougie. I know you could make us all very proud.