Anti-Semitism in the UK hit home for opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) – his father’s home, that is.
Authorities in Belfast removed a plaque on the birthplace of former president Chaim Herzog in the city, citing security concerns.
On Wednesday, Isaac Herzog said he “can only regret the decision, as my family’s history is intertwined with the history of Belfast and Jewish history in Belfast, where there is a unique Jewish community.”
Herzog’s father, Chaim, was born on Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast in 1918 to Sarah Herzog, founder of the religious-Zionist women’s movement Emunah, and Irish Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, who eventually became chief rabbi of Israel.
The opposition leader pointed out that his grandfather is “revered for his role in the Irish War of Independence,” in which he supported the Irish Republican cause and earned the nickname the Sinn Féin Rabbi.
The Herzog family moved to British Mandate Palestine in 1935, and Chaim Herzog served in the British Army in World War II, participating in the liberation of several concentration camps, identifying a captured soldier as Heinrich Himmler and rising to the rank of major.
Chaim Herzog served as a member of Knesset and was ambassador to the UN, famously tearing up the resolution stating Zionism is equivalent to racism, before he became president in 1983, a position he held for 11 years. He died in 1997.
The plaque in his honor was taken down “for the foreseeable future” last week because of attacks on the structure, including “the scrawling of anti-Israel graffiti on the building and items being thrown at the plaque and the house,” Brian Kingston, a local official, told the Belfast Telegraph. “Recently some youths were stopped in the process of trying to remove the plaque with a crowbar,” he said.
Isaac Herzog said the attacks on the plaque tie in with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“This exemplifies the disturbing mix of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment,” he said. “In the 1930s, my grandfather warned Ireland’s leaders of growing anti-Semitism, and today European leaders should be firm in combating it.”
The Labor Party leader said people from all over the world send him photos of the small, blue plaque that was removed from his father’s birthplace this week, especially members of the Irish diaspora in the US.
“No one should oppress history,” he proclaimed.
Herzog said he hoped to visit Belfast soon and meet with Councilor Nichola Mallon, the lord mayor of the city, to ask that the plaque be put back.
“My father was a great man.
He fought with the British in World War II and he was knighted. As president of Israel, he kept a unique relationship with the people of Ireland,” Herzog said. “He is a source of pride for Belfast.”