Who Is Isaac 'Bougie' Herzog, Israel's Newly Elected Labor Party Chairman?

The incoming leader of Israel's left is a scion of a blue-blooded family: A grandson of a chief rabbi, a son of an Israeli president.

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Isaac Herzog.
Isaac Herzog.Credit: Mosi Milrod

Isaac Herzog, 53, is better known by his nickname "Bougie," which he was given by his Egyptian-born, French-speaking mother, who combined the French word for doll, "poupee," with the Hebrew equivalent, "buba," but he prefers to be called Isaac when speaking with English-speakers or foreigners, not its Hebrew version, Yitzhak.

"Isaac" was how he was known by his fellow pupils at Ramah High School in New York, where he studied while his father served as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, he told Haaretz in an interview several years ago.

Herzog is the scion of a blue-blooded family. He is named after his grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, who was the Ashkenazi chief rabbi prior to Israel's statehood. His father, Chaim Herzog, was the sixth president of the state (from 1983 until 1993), and prior to that served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. His uncle was Abba Eban, a Mapai party leader and the foreign minister from 1966 to 1974 (Eban was married to Herzog's aunt Suzy, the sister of his mother, Aura Herzog). His other uncle was Yaakov Herzog, the director general of the Prime Minister's Office during the Levy Eshkol and Golda Meir administrations.

Herzog was the spoiled child, with two older brothers and a younger sister. The oldest is Yoel, a businessman who is married to the daughter of the millionaire Nissim Gaon and lives abroad. Michael (Mike) is a brigadier-general in the Israel Defense Forces who served as military secretary to defense ministers Eliahu Ben-Eliezer and Shaul Mofaz. He is currently a Milton Fine International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. His younger sister, Ronit, is a psychologist.

The elder Herzog had a high opinion of his son Isaac. In his autobiography, "Living History: A Memoir," Chaim Herzog wrote: "Bougie had long ago become a very close friend, and our relationship has gone far beyond what one might expect of a father-and-son relationship."

In an interview with Haaretz, Herzog confessed that his personal motivations are bound up in the family burden he bears. When asked what spurs him on, he answered: "I don't know, but there is a sort of very powerful internal motor that I carry on my back, perhaps from generations past. At times, I think I am a little screwed up in this regard."

Herzog is lawyer, a Labor Party member since 1985 and a Labor Party MK since 2003. He served as minister of housing and construction, minister of tourism, minister of welfare and social services, minister of the Diaspora, society, and fight against anti-Semitism.

On November 22, he was elected Labor Party chairman, in a 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent vote that ousted Shelly Yacimovich.

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