In Hanukkah message to world Jewry, Herzog welcomes ‘tough questions’ about election

President says it is ‘no secret’ that Diaspora Jews have concerns about expected incoming government, but ‘earnest voices’ should continue to engage in dialogue

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

President Isaac Herzog lights the first candle of Hanukkah alongside his wife, Michal, at the President's Residence on December 18, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog lights the first candle of Hanukkah alongside his wife, Michal, at the President's Residence on December 18, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog issued a greeting to world Jewry on Monday, the first day of Hanukkah, saying he welcomed the “earnest voices” and “tough questions” being asked about the incoming government.

“The Hanukkah story is all about people leaning in to their own truths, and inspiring each other to stay connected,” Herzog said in the video message, noting that the current moment comes “with its own challenges and its own calling within our Jewish family.”

Speaking to Diaspora Jewish communities, Herzog said that it is “no secret that the recent elections in Israel have left many Jews around the world asking real questions about belonging with our own collective.”

Herzog said such questioning “is natural, and as Israel’s president, I welcome these earnest voices, which show just how much Israel means to all of us. I would like to remind us that reckoning with the tough questions has always been part of the Jewish story and the Jewish way.”

The president suggested that if “we can put aside our reflexive reactions and show up with a willingness to honestly listen to each other, we will find that our many voices — both within Israel and between our Jewish communities — are our greatest strength.”

Herzog concluded by pointing out that “on a menorah with eight candles, there is room for us all.”

Many world Jewish groups have sounded alarms amid concerns about the policies being pushed for by members of the expected incoming government coalition. The inclusion of far-right lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir — who have a history of promoting racist and homophobic agendas — has been cause for concern among many liberal and mainstream groups.

The presumed next government’s stated desire to alter the Law of Return to limit eligibility for immigration, to overturn recognition of non-Orthodox conversions, and to hand a senior government position to anti-LGBT politician Avi Maoz have prompted messages of concern from some Diaspora leaders.

Former Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman warned recently that an extreme-right government will alienate American Jews.

“If Bibi [Netanyahu] changes the nature of democracy in Israel, he will change the nature of Israel’s support in the US, certainly the American Jewish community, probably the general community and the US government if it continues to be center-left,” Foxman said.

Last month, the official Zionist arm of the Conservative Movement pleaded with Netanyahu not to appoint Ben Gvir a minister due to his history of incitement and series of convictions.

And William Daroff, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who notably shies away from ever criticizing the Israeli government, issued his own veiled warning last month.

William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, speaks at a conference on May 26, 2022. (Conference of Presidents/Facebook)

“The Law of Return is a bedrock of Zionism,” said Daroff about attempts to alter the legislation to limit immigration among those not considered Jews under Orthodox Jewish law. He said he was “very concerned” about such efforts.

With the next government shaping up to be staunchly ideologically right-wing and religious, Netanyahu is expected to sometimes deploy Herzog — a former leader of the Labor party — for more sensitive diplomatic missions.

In his speech at the Knesset swearing-in last month, Herzog said citizens “are honestly exhausted from the infighting and its fallout,” calling for politicians to utilize “respectful discourse.”

Herzog also warned Ben Gvir during consultations following the election that “your party has a certain image that raises concerns in many places, regarding the treatment of Arabs in our state and region. World leaders are asking me.”

The president’s comments were made shortly after he was apparently caught on a hot mic saying that Ben Gvir is a politician that “the entire world is anxious about.”

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