The Herzog Family Tree: Israel's Answer to the Kennedys

From Chaim Herzog to Abba Eban and Oliver Sacks, Labor leader Isaac Herzog's family is often called the closest thing Israel has to Camelot. How many of these names do you recognize?

If any of the candidates running in Israel’s upcoming election was destined for politics and, perhaps, glory, then it’s Labor leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog.

Herzog, who may just become Israel’s next prime minister, carries the heavy burden of family legacy on his shoulders. The scion of a family described as the closest Israel comes to aristocracy or a royal family, the Labor leader’s father was the country’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, and his grandfather was Ashkenazi chief rabbi when the state was established in 1948.

But that’s not all. His family tree is comprised of a long line of impressive relatives.

Herzog’s Polish-born grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, was actually the first chief rabbi of Ireland, before becoming Ashkenazi chief rabbi of pre-state Israel in 1936. He was awarded the Israel Prize for rabbinical literature in 1958, and was chief rabbi till his death in 1959. His wife, Sarah Herzog, was volunteer head of Jerusalem's Ezrat Nashim Hospital, today named the Sarah Herzog Hospital in her honor. She also founded the World Emunah religious-Zionist women’s organization.

Sarah Herzog’s father, Rabbi Samuel Isaac Hillman, was himself a renowned talmudic scholar and dayan of the London Beth Din. Later, having settled in Jerusalem, he cofounded the yeshiva Ohel Torah with his son-in-law, and served as its head. His first cousin was Sidney Hillman, the U.S. labor movement leader, who founded the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and was adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sidney’s wife, Bessie Abramowitz Hillman, was a labor activist in her own right. She was a key figure in the union after his death, and was herself close to Eleanor Roosevelt. Sarah Herzog’s brother, Rabbi David Hillman, was a painter and designer of stained glass windows for synagogues. Another notable Hillman was David's son Ellis Simon Hillman, a Labour councillor in London and former Communist Party member.

Back on the Herzog side, Belfast-born Chaim's illustrious career included 10 years as Israel's president, from 1983-1993. He was also Israel’s UN ambassador from 1975 to 1978; head of Israel’s Military Intelligence division; and served as military governor of Jerusalem and the West Bank after the Six-Day War. He first joined the Knesset in 1981 as a member of Alignment – the precursor of today’s Labor Party.

Illustration by Doron Flamm

He also founded one of the country’s largest law firms, Herzog Fox & Neeman – which Isaac Herzog would later join – and was an author and businessman. His wife, Egypt-born Aura Herzog (née Ambache), was in the Haganah (the underground, pre-independence army of Palestine’s Jews) and served as an officer in the Science Corps during the 1948 War of Independence. An author and art critic, she initiated Israel’s International Bible Contest in 1959, and founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel in 1968.

Chaim and Aura's four children followed in their footsteps. Isaac's older brother, Michael, had a high-flying military career, retiring with the rank of brigadier general in 2010. He held senior positions under four defense ministers and had played a key role in Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993. Currently, he is an International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and a Senior Fellow at BICOM and the Jewish People Policy Institute. Joel, the eldest of the Herzog brood, is a businessman living in Geneva. Their sister, Ronit Herzog Bronsky, is a psychologist in Tel Aviv, specializing in clinical psychology.

Their uncle, Yaakov Herzog (Chaim's brother), also went into politics. A former member of the Haganah, a rabbi and Torah scholar, and doctor of international law, he became political adviser to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Later, he was a diplomat, serving in Canada and the United States. Notably, he was director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, but died at age 50 in 1972. His wife, Pnina Herzog, a pharmacist, represented Israel at the World Health Organization for several years. They had three children, Elinora, Isaac Shai, and Shira, who was director of the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) before working in the philanthropy sector in Canada. She was also a columnist, writing regularly for publications such as Canadian Jewish News and the Globe and Mail, but died of cancer last September.

And then there Isaac's other uncle – none other than the legendary diplomat, orator and statesman Abba Eban. Eban was married to Isaac’s aunt on his mother’s side, Suzy, who, incidentally, founded the Israel Cancer Association.

“Friday night dinners with Abba Eban and my father were always full of in-depth discussions about politics around the world,” Herzog told Haaretz in an interview in 2003, adding that his childhood imbued him with “the right political spirit.”

Through Eban, there are some other impressive, if more distant, relatives: Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist and author, is Abba Eban’s cousin. Meanwhile, Eban’s nephew, Jonathan Lynn, was one of the creators and writers of the classic BBC political sitcoms "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister."