The Belfast links of veteran politician Isaac Herzog have been celebrated since he was elected President of Israel.
Herzog is considered one of Israel’s most influential public figures. He was a former leader of the opposition Labor Party as well as a former minister in coalition governments in Jerusalem.
He was also the president of the powerful Jewish Agency, the largest Jewish non-profit organization in the world that works closely with the government to promote immigration into Israel.
The 60-year-old ran unsuccessfully against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 parliamentary elections. He has been critical of Mr Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain an official.
Mr. Herzog hails from a prominent Israeli family.
His father, Chaim Herzog, was born in Belfast. Before being elected President, he was Ambassador to the United Nations.
A blue plaque marking his birth a century ago was removed from the former Herzog home on Cliftonvillepark Avenue after repeated attacks.
North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said he is a friend of the new president and is expected to visit NI soon.
“I would like to congratulate my friend and Belfast grandson, Isaac Herzog, on his election to the presidency of Israel.
“Isaac has a great pedigree. His father was a Belfast boy who helped create the state of Israel and became its president. Now a second generation is witness to succeeding in that position.
“I congratulate Isaac and wish him all the best as he handles the most difficult situation in Israel. He will be on the job and I look forward to seeing him again in Belfast soon and welcoming him here.”
Last month, at least 242 people were killed in Gaza and 13 in Israel during 11 days of fierce fighting before an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire. The violence comes after weeks of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
The position of the President is a largely ceremonial role meant to serve as the nation’s moral compass and promote unity.
Mr Herzog will be Israel’s 11th president, replacing Reuven Rivlin, who is set to step down next month after a seven-year term. The anonymous vote was held among 120 members of the Knesset, or parliament.
His uncle, Abba Ebon, also lived in Belfast in 1918, having moved to the city as a child during World War I when his home was in Kinnaird Street off Antrim Road. He became Israel’s first foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations and the United States. His grandfather was the country’s first chief rabbi.
Mr Herzog defeats Miriam Peretz, a teacher who is seen as a simple outsider. He was also seen close to the country’s leading conservative and nationalist political camp.
Mr Herzog was widely seen as a favorite because of his deep ties to the political establishment. He will hold office for a single seven-year term beginning July 9.
The president is tasked with asking the leader of a political party to form a governing coalition after parliamentary elections. Israel has held four national elections in the past two years amid a protracted political crisis.
Mr Netanyahu’s opponents face a midnight deadline to form a new coalition government. If they fail, the country could be plunged into another election campaign.
The president also has the power to grant pardons – potentially creating a sensitive situation as Mr Netanyahu stands trial for a series of corruption charges.
Chaim Herzog returned to Northern Ireland during World War II, serving as an intelligence officer in the British Army stationed in Lisburn and later participated in the liberation of Europe.
Mr Herzog said in an interview with this news organization in 2018 that his family had an “amateur” connection to Belfast, adding that the city “is rooted in his existence and his personality”.
“My father talked in his memoir about the fighting between Protestants and Catholics and how it affected his life as president, as he said that we should always prevent civil war, or conflict within a nation,” They said.
Mr Herzog’s rabbi grandfather was seen as a key figure in the history of Irish independence. He was a fluent Irish speaker who was a friend of Aamon de Valera and was dubbed by some as “the Sinn Féin rabbi”.
It is also said that during a riot he was asked whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic Jew.
Mr Herzog said his father always followed news from Northern Ireland, “often with great pain in times of conflict”.
“My father felt that there was some hope for our own position in the Middle East by moving towards the peace process in Northern Ireland, where he advocated for compromise and coexistence between Jews and Arabs,” he said.
He said the people of Israel were “jealous” of the progress made in the direction of peace here.
“After the Good Friday Agreement, we could only yearn for the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
He also said his family was “deeply hurt” by the attacks on his grandfather’s blue plaque, which forced it to be removed.
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