Isaac Herzog is the experienced president Israel needed - editorial

Unlike Yair Lapid, Herzog – an experienced statesman – could make the call to Poland's Duda, and he could talk about restoring ties “to their proper course.”

 Herzog stands beside the statue of his father, Chaim Herzog, in the gardens of Beit Hanassi.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Herzog stands beside the statue of his father, Chaim Herzog, in the gardens of Beit Hanassi.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israel and Poland will once again have credentialed ambassadors in each other’s capitals, the President’s Office announced on Monday, following months – even years – of tension between the two countries revolving around Holocaust-related issues.

It was no surprise that the announcement came from the president’s office, and that it came after a phone call between President Isaac Herzog and Polish President Andrzej Duda. It is hard to imagine Prime Minister Yair Lapid being able to make that call, since he has been a vocal and fierce critic of Poland going back to 2018 when Warsaw moved to make it illegal to say “Polish concentration camps.”

In August, Lapid, as foreign minister, blasted Poland for passing laws severely restricting World War II-era restitution claims, calling the laws “antisemitic and immoral,” and that Poland has “turned into an anti-democratic, illiberal country that doesn’t respect the greatest tragedy in human history.”

But Herzog – an experienced statesman – could make the call to Duda, and he could talk about restoring ties “to their proper course.” In so doing, Herzog highlighted a role that he has played with great effectiveness since taking office a year ago: a seasoned and beneficial diplomat for Israel on the world stage.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during his visit to Amman on Wednesday. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during his visit to Amman on Wednesday. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

On July 6, 2021, Herzog defeated Miriam Peretz in a secret Knesset ballot by a vote of 87-26. Though Israel Prize recipient Peretz touched the hearts of many with her perpetual optimism and personal story as a mother of two fallen soldiers, the Knesset decided to place the reins of the presidency in the hands of a seasoned politician and statesman who could seamlessly and immediately begin walking with prime ministers, presidents and kings.

The Knesset's move has paid off

It was Herzog who traveled to Jordan shortly after being sworn in to try to repair ties with Jordan’s King Abdullah, ties that had suffered during the Netanyahu years; it was Herzog who was the first Israeli president to speak by phone with his Chinese counterpart; and it was Herzog who broke ground as the highest-ranking Israeli office ever to travel to the UAE.

Most importantly, it was Herzog to whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned when he decided last summer to alter Turkish foreign policy and improve relations with Israel.

It was also Herzog who was deeply involved in helping get the Oaknin couple released from Turkish custody in November, and it was Herzog who traveled to Ankara in March to formally turn over a new page in Israeli-Turkish relations.

Why Herzog? Because he is experienced, known around the world, and discreet. As former prime minister Naftali Bennett said in February: “In my eyes, the president is doing an excellent job. He is an extraordinary diplomatic asset for solving problems.”

It is not only in diplomacy that Herzog has proven his mettle, however. When he came into office he waved the banner of promoting unity, as all presidents do, and of trying to heal societal rifts.

Though it will take much more than one year for one man to bridge this country’s great divides, Herzog has shown he is serious about wanting to be everyone’s president.

The former head of the Labor party was not fazed when the Left slammed him and protested against him on his first day in office, for taking as his spokesman someone from the Right side of the political divide.

Herzog has maintained close relations with the haredi community, which he cultivated long before coming into office. He lit Hanukkah candles at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and went to Kfar Kassem and apologized for the 1956 massacre there.

In all this, Herzog was implementing what he promised he would do, during his swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset: “Embark among the rift lines and fault lines of Israeli society; a journey aimed at finding the unifying factor within the differences, the healing factor among the fragments.”

The journey is nowhere near complete – indeed, the country is as divided now as it was when Herzog took office. Yet Herzog also pledged that he intended to be president of all Israelis. His first year in office has shown that he meant what he said.