Highest ranking woman in IDF awarded Chaim Herzog Prize

Named for Israel’s sixth president, the Chaim Herzog Prize was established by his family following his death in 1997, in order to perpetuate his memory and his legacy.

Then-Israeli ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog addresses the General Assembly condemning Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, on November 10, 1975 (photo credit: HERZOG FAMILY FOUNDATION)
Then-Israeli ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog addresses the General Assembly condemning Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, on November 10, 1975
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai – who in June 2011 became the highest ranking woman in the IDF and the first to attain the rank of major-general – is this year’s winner of the Chaim Herzog Prize.
Named for Israel’s sixth president, the prize is awarded every two years by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in conjunction with Yad Chaim Herzog. It was established by Herzog’s family following his death in 1997 in order to perpetuate his legacy. Since Herzog – who was president from 1983 to 1993 – was the state’s second-longest serving president after Yitzhak Ben Zvi, it is only natural that the award be conferred in the presence of the president of Israel. It is given to individuals who have made unique contributions in fields in which Herzog was active or took an abiding interest.
In a ceremony Wednesday at the President’s Residence, President Reuven Rivlin observed that Barbivai was promoted to the IDF’s second highest rank not as a gesture to feminists but because she merited the rank of major-general. “You were the first because you were the best,” he told her.
Noting that Barbivai, who was born in Ramle and raised in Afula, was one of eight siblings, Rivlin said that it was remarkable for someone coming from an underprivileged background to rise to such heights.
She could have just as easily turned to a life of crime, Rivlin commented. Many of Barbivai’s accomplishments remain classified, he said.
He was particularly pleased to be given the opportunity to present the Chaim Herzog Prize because of the long acquaintance between the Herzog and Rivlin families he said, recalling that Israel’s first chief rabbi, Isaac Halevi Herzog, the grandfather of the current leader of the parliamentary opposition who bears his name, was a good friend of Rivlin’s father, and the rabbi’s wife, Rabbanit Sara Herzog had worked with Rivlin’s mother in providing for the needs of widows and orphans.
As for Chaim Herzog, Rivlin recalled that after the Six Day War, Herzog was appointed “the first Jewish military governor of Jerusalem in 2,000 years.”
Rivlin emphasized that just as Herzog had a multi-faceted career, so did Barbivai.
Her various activities cover nearly all the categories in which the prize is awarded.
Barbivai said that it was an honor to be awarded a prize named in memory of so exceptional a man as Chaim Herzog, and it was an equally great honor to be given a place amongst the esteemed individuals who had preceded her. Previous prize winners include philosopher Hagit Benbaji, industrialist Dov Lautman, journalist Ze’ev Schiff, former Mossad director Efraim Halevi, author and jurist Hadassa Ben-Ito, educator Shimshon Shoshani, former Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer.
Barbivai returned the compliment and said that she admired Rivlin’s courage in adhering to the principles in which he believed and in voicing those beliefs even when they were not popular.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem president Prof. Menachem Ben Sasson said that the university encourages its students to go out into the field, and to become community activists. Rivlin, who studied law at HU, is an example of this, said Ben Sasson, adding that there were many others he could name.
As it happens, Barbivai is not an alumnus of the Hebrew University. Her BA in social sciences and humanities is from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and her MBA is from the University of Haifa.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the youngest son of the late president, said that one of the purposes of the prize was to acknowledge individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the state and the Jewish People but had not been sufficiently recognized for their efforts.