Herzog to world Jewry: After year of ‘struggle,’ time for all to open hearts, listen

In English message for Rosh Hashanah, president says ‘differences are a sign of strength,’ expresses hope for vibrant conversation

President Isaac Herzog in an English-language message to Jews around the world for Rosh Hashanah, September 15, 2023 (Video screenshot)
President Isaac Herzog in an English-language message to Jews around the world for Rosh Hashanah, September 15, 2023 (Video screenshot)

Acknowledging a year of “challenge” and “struggle,” President Isaac Herzog on Friday told Jewish communities around the world that “having differences and being able to voice them is a sign of strength – strength of our democracy, and strength of our people.”

In an English-language message for Rosh Hashanah, Herzog said he hoped Jews in Israel and around the world would make an effort “to get to know these differences, which are the source of the richness, the resilience of our society, to try to really hear, to listen, and to open our hearts.”

This, so “that we can touch once again what is most true: our belonging to each other, and to the great story we carry together,” he said.

“As we say, ‘kol Israel arevim ze baze,” said the president in reference to the famous Talmudic phrase that means that the Jewish people are responsible for one another.

“This act of listening is the first and most most crucial step in healing our rifts,” he added.

Noting his previously announced initiative for worldwide Jewish dialogue, Herzog expressed hope for “a global Jewish conversation that is inclusive, vibrant, empowering, and will also impact the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

On Wednesday, Herzog — who has spent months trying to mediate between the hardline coalition and the opposition on the former’s efforts to overhaul the country’s judiciary — warned that Israel was facing a threat from within and urged its leaders to find a compromise, saying his latest proposal was widely supported in both the coalition and the opposition.

Warnings against the overhaul plan have also come from across the Diaspora, with increasingly hardline Israeli governments seen as driving a wedge between the Jewish state and Jewish communities that have historically been highly supportive of Israel.

In his televised speech Wednesday from the Latrun military site at an event to mark 50 years since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Herzog said the political leadership must show “courage and responsibility to get us out of this crisis.”

“This is a moment of truth for the political system,” he said.

An agreement, he said, should be “in the spirit of the values of the Declaration of Independence — yes, in the spirit of this founding document, and will allow us all to get out of the crisis that has plagued us for about nine months.”

“The leaders owe us the truth,” Herzog said. “An agreement is possible, we can bring the nation back to prosperity.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hardline government have been advancing a radical judicial overhaul since taking office over eight months ago that has sparked sustained mass demonstrations, large-scale refusals by army reservists to show up for volunteer duty, and dire warnings that the moves would undermine the country’s democracy, security and economy.

Herzog earlier this year sponsored talks between coalition and opposition parties to reach an agreement on constructive judicial reform, but the negotiations failed. Then, earlier this month, the president proposed a framework to act as a basis for fresh talks to reach an agreement.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard petitions against the only part of the overhaul that has been passed into law so far. During the discussion, which probed fundamental concepts on the relationship between the Knesset and the court, the lead attorney for the government challenged the continued relevance of the Declaration of Independence, which was written over seventy-five years ago. Attorney Ilan Bombach faced a storm of criticism for his remarks.

“It goes without saying and it should not even be a topic of discussion, that in the Jewish and democratic state of Israel, it is mandatory for everyone to be subject to the rule of law and to obey the rulings of the court,” Herzog said, in an apparent reference to those within the coalition who have said that they will not accept a court decision that goes against the government, setting up the potential for a constitutional crisis.

The president also voiced support for changes to the judiciary, but said they should not be done unilaterally.

Netanyahu said Monday he was working to “exhaust every possibility” to reach a broad agreement on the judicial overhaul. Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party, said he would be willing to accept a compromise deal on the judicial overhaul if it “preserved democracy,” as reports swirled that Netanyahu was planning to announce a unilateral softening of the legislation in a bid to head off a confrontation with the High Court.

However, Gantz reiterated his call from last week for the prime minister to first prove he has the political support from his hardline coalition necessary to compromise.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has repeatedly refused to compromise on the overhaul and reportedly threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu waters it down. The heads of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties have also rejected a compromise.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid has so far indicated he does not believe Netanyahu is sincere in wanting to reach an agreement.

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