‘Mazel tov, Mr. President!’: Herzog feted after winning vote in landslide

Incumbent Reuven Rivlin tells his designated successor he’s ‘proud to pass on the baton to you’; Miriam Peretz, who lost the election, says his ‘success is our success’

Isaac Herzog raises a toast at the Knesset after he was elected by lawmakers as Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Isaac Herzog raises a toast at the Knesset after he was elected by lawmakers as Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Political leaders on Wednesday hailed the selection of Isaac Herzog as Israel’s next president, after the Jewish Agency chairman and former Labor party leader won more votes in the Knesset that any presidential candidate in the country’s history.

Herzog, the son of a former president, was elected by 87 of the Knesset’s 120 members to be the 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.

In a speech after the vote, Herzog vowed to serve all Israelis.

Congratulating Herzog, Peretz said he would be a beloved president, saying her prayers and those of the nation were devoted to his success in the role. “His success is our success,” she said.

Presidential candidates Isaac Herzog and Miriam Peretz embrace before the vote, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)

President Reuven Rivlin, whose seven-year term ends on July 9, phoned his just-elected successor to congratulate him.

“I send you my warmest greetings, Mr. President!” Rivlin was quoted saying in a statement. “The title of ‘first citizen’ and the task 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 in a month’s time.”

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

Top lawmakers also congratulated Herzog on his election as president.

“I wish him great success in the name of all Israeli citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

The two also made joint statements to the media.

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

Netanyahu interjected, “Well, let’s not get into that at the moment,” to laughs from the crowd.

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

The back-and-forth came as political opponents seek to finalize a coalition that will see Netanyahu replaced as premier before Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government expires at midnight. Lapid also congratulated Herzog.

“A worthy and beloved man who sees the good of the people and the country in front of him all the time. Good luck president!” Lapid wrote on Twitter.

Lapid also offered well wishes to Peretz, saying, “You will always be the president of the Israeli people’s heart.”

President-elect Isaac Herzog with Yesh Atid leader at the Knesset after Herzog’s election, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meeting with Herzog, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said: “In this period many people are looking to the President’s Residence. They see the president as the person symbolizing our shared values… I am convinced that you will fulfill the hopes of many during your candidacy.”

Herzog also received extensive praise from lawmakers from across the political spectrum.

“A Zionist with a big heart,” tweeted Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who is in talks with Lapid to form a government in which the two will rotate as prime minister.

Bennett added: “Your big mission is to unite the nation. With the help of God we’ll do this together.”

Labor chief Merav Michaeli hailed Herzog as “our flesh and blood,” noting his former leadership of the center-left party.

“The tremendous and sweeping support you received from the [Knesset] members testifies to… how accepted you are by huge swaths of the Israeli nation,” Michaeli wrote on Twitter.

Ultra-Orthodox Shas leader Aryeh Deri said he had “no doubt” that Herzog could bring all Israelis together.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, whose far-right party announced before the vote it would back Peretz, also congratulated Herzog.

“Unite the nation, strengthen the Jewish and Zionist identity of the country, stick to your deep family roots and fight for the just path of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the world,” Smotrich tweeted.

In America, pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC congratulated Herzog, as did the American Jewish Committee, which wished him “mazal tov!”

“Under his capable leadership, ties between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora will continue to flourish and grow,” AJC said in a statement on its Twitter account.

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, which could become key should Netanyahu be convicted in his ongoing corruption trial.

In the run-up to the vote, Herzog refused to say whether he would consider pardoning Netanyahu, who had not endorsed either candidate.

A well-heeled 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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