LISTEN: Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog says ‘real issues’ trump annexation talk
Times of Israel podcast

LISTEN: Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog says ‘real issues’ trump annexation talk

The former Labor leader views Israel as a ‘beacon’ to the world during the COVID-19 era, and urges constructive criticism, not disengagement, from the Diaspora on political issues

Jewish Agency head Isaac “Bougie” Herzog comes from a long and illustrious family line — often called the “Kennedys of Israel” — which includes scholars, city founders and, of course, his father, Chaim Herzog, the country’s sixth president.

In recognition of unsung matriarchs, The Times of Israel takes a moment to ask Herzog about his 95-year-old mother, former first lady Aura Herzog, who founded Israel’s famous annual World Bible Quiz, served in the military during Israel’s War of Independence and eventually went on to found the Council for a Beautiful Israel, which she chaired for 38 years.

Chaim Herzog also had a moment that resonates especially strongly today, when he made his famous speech in the United Nations nearly 45 years ago in November 1975 against UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism with racism.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses ahead with plans to annex swaths of territory in the West Bank and Jordan Valley under the auspices of US President Donald Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan, there is concern that the global community will once again set its sights on Israel — this time accusing it of establishing a system of apartheid.

For Herzog, who as Jewish Agency head is tasked with helping build connections for Diaspora Jews with their Israeli counterparts, annexation can bring a different sort of quandary. In light of the political fallout, if annexation goes forward, it may be harder for Diaspora Jews to support Israel in their home countries.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, center, in suit and tie, with Ulpan Etzion students. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

“All in all, we’re not perfect — we have flaws like many societies,” Herzog tells Times of Israel Jewish World and Archaeology Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan. “But the last thing one can say is that Israel is a racist state.”

Herzog was the leader of the Labor party and headed the opposition from 2013 to 2018, and he points out that “a Muslim Brotherhood representative” (from the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, running on the United Arab List) sat in that opposition alongside himself, and was “an equal like anybody else.”

But Herzog draws a distinction between Resolution 3379, which “came from strict, clear sources of anti-Semitism,” and annexation, which he calls “a major political issue.”

Isaac Herzog at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, February 2020. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

“[Annexation] has nothing to do with the right of Israel for self-determination, or the Jewish people for their own independence,” Herzog says.

With that said, the dovish Jewish Agency head urges people not to jump to conclusions about what the future holds in terms of annexation — especially given all the “spin.”

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog greets a flight of new immigrants. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

“We don’t know yet if and when such a process would really begin, what its contents would be… I think there’s so much going on behind the scenes with the Arab countries, with our neighbors, with the United States,” Herzog says, implying that he’s been privy to some details of the closed-door conversations.

“I urge our listeners: wait, and don’t jump to conclusions, because you don’t know yet exactly what will really be the final decision — if there will be any decision,” he says.

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