Israel’s 11th president: Herzog pledges to ‘calm things down’

“My mission, the mission of my term, is to do everything in order to rebuild hope,” Herzog said in his inauguration speech.

By Associated Press

Isaac Herzog pledged to heal deep divisions in Israeli society Wednesday as he took the oath of office to become Israel’s 11th president.

With one hand on a Bible before the Knesset — Israel’s parliament — Herzog, 60, assumed the largely ceremonial position that is designed to serve as the country’s moral compass.

Herzog promised to be “the president of everyone,” adding that the “central expectation” of all Israelis “from me, from all of us, is to lower the tone, to lower the flames, to calm things down.”

“My mission, the mission of my term, is to do everything in order to rebuild hope,” he said in his inauguration speech.

The parliament chamber was festooned with large bouquets of white lilies for the inauguration. Military rabbis blew rams’ horns, followed by a performance by a children’s choir. Those assembled sang Israel’s national anthem. Amid applause, Herzog and outgoing president Reuven Rivlin stepped away from the dais together.

Herzog, whose father, Chaim, served as Israel’s president in the 1980s, is to hold office for a single seven-year term. Chaim Herzog also served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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The new president’s pedigree includes his grandfather, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, who was the country’s first chief rabbi. His uncle, Abba Eban, served as foreign minister and ambassador to the U.N. and United States.

Herzog was elected to the presidency by the Knesset last month. He had previously served as head of the Labor Party and head of the opposition in parliament. After leaving politics in 2018, he served as head of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit organization that works closely with the Israeli government to promote Jewish immigration to Israel and to serve Jewish communities overseas.

Taking office at a time of deep divisions in Israeli society, Herzog said upon his election that he intends to be “the president of everyone” and work to preserve Israel’s democracy.

While most of the office’s function is to receive foreign dignitaries and other ceremonial roles, the president has the power to grant pardons.

The president is also responsible for selecting a political party leader to form a governing coalition and serve as prime minister after parliamentary elections — a task Rivlin has done five times while in office, most recently after the March 23 parliamentary election.

Herzog’s inauguration comes less than a month after Israel swore in a new government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who struck a coalition agreement with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Netanyahu was ousted from office after a 12-year stint as prime minister — the longest in Israel’s history — and now serves as opposition leader.