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Herzog expected to speak of rifts, polarization in society

Herzog to take office as Israel’s 11th president in a day of pomp and ceremony

New president to be sworn in on same Bible as father; Rivlin on Israelis in letter to successor: ‘You’ll want to hug all of them. You’ll want to cry with them and laugh with them’

President Reuven Rivlin (right) with his successor Issac Herzog and Herzog's wife Michael. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (right) with his successor Issac Herzog and Herzog's wife Michael. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Isaac Herzog will take office on Wednesday as Israel’s 11th president after a day of ceremonies with outgoing President Reuven Rivlin.

The day will start with the official unveiling of a bust of Rivlin in the statue garden of the president’s official residence.

The sculpture was erected Monday alongside those of Rivlin’s predecessors, two days before he completed his seven-year term.

On a plaque beneath the bust is a quote from Rivlin: “Without the ability to listen, there is no ability to learn. Without the ability to learn, there is no ability to repair.”

During his term in office, Rivlin consistently scored high public approval ratings, with his determination to represent the broad spectrum of Israeli communities and his obvious compassion resonating with the public.

In the afternoon, Herzog will take his oath of office in the Knesset. He will be sworn in on a 107-year-old Bible that has a long history in his family — the same one that his father Chaim Herzog used when he was sworn in as president in 1983. The Bible survived both world wars and was given to his grandmother by her father on the eve of her wedding.

The new president will then address the Knesset plenum. In his speech, Herzog is expected to speak of the rifts and polarization in Israeli society, the ways to repair the divides, and the tools needed to preserve Israel’s democracy, the Ynet news site reported Wednesday.

Following a toast to the president at the Knesset, Herzog will head over to the President’s Residence where there will be a handover ceremony with Rivlin.

Waiting for Herzog on his desk in the president’s office will be a personal letter from Rivlin, addressed to “the president.”

“The truth is I am a little envious of you. In a short time you will discover the tremendous privilege that has fallen to you,” Rivlin wrote in the missive.

“In the coming seven years you will meet the men and women who are citizens of Israel. I am already telling you, you will want to hug them, all of them. You will want to cry with them, and to laugh with them. To be excited with them,” Rivlin wrote.

President Reuven Rivlin reading a book to the children at Hadas Kindergarten, on January 3, 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Echoing themes he expressed in a 2015 speech warning against the deterioration of unity in Israeli society, Rivlin wrote: “Among the tribes, in the shadow of the controversies and rifts, you will find brave people who do not talk about the ‘together’, they just live it. Day to day and hour by hour. In their homes, those on the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, veteran [citizens] and new immigrants, religious and traditional, young and old. People of all faiths, sectors and ethnicities. All of them, Israelis. Beautiful, enlightening, and generous. And what a heart they have, beyond words.”

Rivlin warned his successor of the emotional toll too, recalling how his sleep was sometimes disturbed by thoughts of those he met who were facing challenges in one form or another.

“You will be surprised. Fall in love. Be proud. Take things to heart,” Rivlin wrote.

“Many times, on journeys, in meetings, I thought to myself the title ‘Citizen Number One’ was born simply because this is the number one people. Today I am sure,” Rivlin concluded.

A bust of President Reuven Rivlin by artist Sigalit Landau seen in the Avenue of the Presidents, at the President’s Residence, on July 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/ GPO)

Herzog, a former Jewish Agency chairman and Labor party leader, won more votes in the Knesset in the election in early June than any presidential candidate in the country’s history.

Ahead of the ceremony, Herzog prayed at the Western Wall on Tuesday and in the note he left in the cracks of the wall, he wrote that he will devote himself to “unity among our people and true love for Israel.”

As the 11th president of Israel, he said, he will “do everything to make a significant contribution to our unity, a significant contribution to calming our spirits and strengthening the lofty vision of loving each other.”

President-elect Isaac Herzog at the Kotel on July 6, 2021. (Noam Rivkin Fenton)

Herzog was elected on June 2 by 87 of the Knesset’s 120 members as 11th president of Israel, a largely ceremonial post. Miriam Peretz, a social activist and Israel Prize-winning educator who lost two soldier sons in Israel’s wars, was backed by 26 lawmakers in the secret ballot.

Rivlin immediately phoned his successor to congratulate him on his win.

“I send you my warmest greetings, Mr. President!” Rivlin was quoted saying in a statement. “The title of ‘first citizen’ and the task of guarding the character of the State of Israel, particularly at this point in time, are heavy responsibilities. I have no doubt that you will bear them superbly. I am proud to pass on the baton to you.”

A moving truck outside the president’s official residence in Jerusalem on July 7, 2021, as current President Reuven Rivlin is set to be replaced by Isaac Herzog (Sraya Diamant/FLASH90)

Herzog, who was opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief opponent in the 2015 general elections, said he hoped “to be able to work with any government and every prime minister.”

Israel’s president is largely ceremonial but plays a key role in deciding who gets the mandate to form a government following elections. The president also has the power to pardon people and grant clemency.

Newly elected Israeli President Isaac Herzog (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset after Herzog’s election, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the run-up to the vote, Herzog refused to say whether he would consider pardoning Netanyahu, who is on trial in three corruption cases.

An attorney by profession at one of the country’s top firms (which was founded by his father), Herzog has a family history that is as close as one comes to Israeli royalty.

He is the grandson of Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac Herzog, for whom he is named, and the son of former IDF major general and then president Chaim Herzog. His brother Michael is a retired IDF brigadier general. His aunt Suzy was the wife of former foreign minister Abba Eban.

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