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'He could have been our grandfather'

Herzog heckled at national religious confab for raising death of elderly Palestinian

President tells meeting marking 40th anniversary of death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook that ‘Jewish morality cannot be indifferent’ to the case of Omar As’ad

President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony to mark the 40th death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook on February 15, 2022 ( Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony to mark the 40th death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook on February 15, 2022 ( Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog was heckled and jeered on Tuesday for raising the recent death of a 78-year-old Palestinian man after his detention by the Israel Defense Forces, while addressing a conference attended by members of Israel’s national-religious community.

Herzog was speaking at a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the late, legendary head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and one of the principal spiritual leaders of the national religious movement.

During his speech, Herzog addressed the recent death of Omar As’ad, who suffered a fatal heart attack after Israeli troops bound and gagged him, then left him at a construction site in the middle of winter during a raid. He said As’ad’s death needs to be a “warning sign” to Israeli society.

“The words of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda are even more relevant today,” Herzog said, noting As’ad’s death in the context of a declaration by Kook expressing shame and sorrow over an unprovoked incident of Arabs attacked by Jews. Said Herzog: “Jewish morality cannot accept this or be indifferent to this.”

Herzog’s comments were met with loud boos and whistles and several people walked out of the hall to applause to protest his remarks.

“Shame on you,” shouted some members of the crowd.

At the end of his speech, Herzog reacted to the heckling, telling the audience: “I can’t ignore what happened here a few minutes ago and so I say to you, we need to learn to love and to know the other, because all of us were created in the image (of God) and he (As’ad) could have been our grandfather.”

This time he was met with mixed applause and jeers.

President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony to mark the 40th death of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook on February 15, 2022 ( Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The majority of the national religious camp is firmly on the right of the Israeli political spectrum and is a major proponent of the settlement movement in the West Bank.

Herzog has previously spoken about As’ad’s death, which the IDF called an “ethical failure” by the soldiers involved. Two officers were removed from their positions and a third was formally censured.

Speaking at a conference last week, Herzog said As’ad’s death “should serve as a warning light for us all.”

“Friends, this matter transcends political divisions; it transcends identity groups; it transcends the whole of Israeli society,” he said.

Omar As’ad (Courtesy)

Herzog’s comments came amid an ongoing Military Police investigation into the incident. Once complete, the findings will be passed to the Military Advocate General, who will decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

The death of As’ad, who was an American citizen, drew a sharp response from the Biden administration, with the State Department emphasizing in the multiple statements issued on the matter that it takes the safety of its nationals abroad very seriously.

Despite the IDF’s internal probe, the US has continued to call for a “thorough criminal investigation” and US Ambassador Tom Nides met last week with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi for an update on the investigation.

Kohavi echoed an earlier IDF statement, telling Nides that “this was a grave moral incident that is contrary to the values of the IDF.”

A group of Democratic lawmakers has also sounded off on As’ad’s death, demanding an investigation and expressing concern over Israeli military practices in the West Bank more broadly.

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