New President Isaac Herzog was sworn into office Wednesday afternoon in a special Knesset session, vowing in his speech that he will be president for everyone.
Herzog said in his speech that the citizens of Israel clearly expressed their main expectation – of me, of all of us, to change the tone, to lower the flames, to calm things down."
"In normal times, this is a mission that sounds almost naïve," Herzog said. But these days are, unfortunately, are not normal," he added lamenting the country's polarization. "Baseless hatred, the same factionalism and polarization, are exacting a heavy price – today, and every day. The heaviest price of all is the erosion of our national resilience."
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Herzog said that he intends to "find what unifies us within the differences, what mends the rifts," and asserted: As a Jewish and democratic state, we must do everything for the sake of integrating the minorities living among us." He added that to this end, "we must care: care about partnership, care about life, care about the intolerable loss of life in the Arab community. To care about the pain. And we must then begin to repair. Together. Always together."
The new president also called on public leaders to act responsibly and "to be a moderating and calming voice, to be responsible and to be careful in what he says. To ensure the freedom of expression – and to prevent, at any price, the freedom of incitement. To remember the words of [poet and author] Yehuda Amichai, 'in this sweltering country, words must provide shade.' … We must stop seeing the differences between us as an obstacle. They are actually the source of our strength."
Addressing the session before Herzog, outgoing President Reuven Rivlin spoke in support of coexistence between Jews and Arabs and voiced optimism about Israel's place in the region. "Israel has a central role in shaping the regional order, in terms of security and diplomacy, but also economically and socially in finding solutions in dealing with the water, food and health crises, in dealing with the dangers of the climate crisis and the environment," he said."I believe that we will succeed in living here together, Jews and Arabs, [that] we will find the way to live together, between the sea to the Jordan River and the entire region. We must increase our trust in order to allow our children to have another future."
Following the ceremony, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Herzog in a statement. "Isaac is an Israeli patriot and an enthusiastic Zionist who always seeks to find what is shared by and connects the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said. "I wish him much success in his role!"
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After the ceremony at the Knesset there will be a reception at Beit Hanassi, the President’s Residence, during which both Herzog and Rivlin will present the senior advisory teams and deliver greetings. At 8 P.M., Rivlin will leave the residence. Unlike former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has not yet left the prime minister’s residence – Rivlin preferred to move out of the official residence the day his term ended. Herzog, by his choice, will move in only after the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which falls on July 18. The Beit Hanassi staff will take advantage of the time the residence is unoccupied to do some minor renovations.
On Tuesday Herzog visited the Western Wall, where he said, “There is no more fitting place than here from which to call for unity among our people. . I plan to devote all my might to this. I’m aware of the tension, the pains, and the great sorrow reflected in the mood of our people. I hope ...I will be able to exercise my authority and status as the State of Israel’s 11th president to do everything to make a significant contribution to our unity, a significant contribution to calming things down.”
Rivlin has spent the past few weeks taking leave of the security services and other state agencies. At a farewell ceremony at the Israel Defense Forces base at the Kirya in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Rivlin said: “When they said that Israeli society had lost its way, that we had lost direction up the road, I found it in you. Like a soldier in navigation, you were my waypoint to the values of Israeli hope.”
Rivlin also spoke on Tuesday to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who had called to congratulate him on his retirement.
Herzog was elected in early June, after winning a Knesset vote over Miriam Peretz, 87 votes to 26. Though Religious Zionism publicly supported Peretz, no other party endorsed a candidate. Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel’s sixth president, serving from 1983 to 1993. Now, presidents are limited to one, seven-year term.
Herzog, a married father of three, lives in Tel Aviv. After working in the Herzog Fox Neeman law office, which his father founded, he entered public service in 1999, as cabinet secretary in Ehud Barak’s government. He was first elected to the Knesset in 2003 and has served as housing minister, tourism minister and social affairs minister. In 2013, he was elected chairman of the Labor Party and was a candidate for prime minister in 2015. After losing the party leadership to Avi Gabbay in 2018, he was elected chairman of the Jewish Agency and resigned from the Knesset.
In 2000, when he was the cabinet secretary, Herzog was questioned about the allegedly illegal activities of nonprofit associations that worked on behalf of Ehud Barak during the 1999 election. He maintained his right to remain silent and the case was closed for lack of evidence. He later said he should have acted differently. In 2016, as Labor Party chairman, Herzog was questioned again on suspicion he had been aware of a prohibited contribution to his party leadership campaign in 2013. This case was also closed for lack of evidence.