Saturday 18 November 2017

Will an 'Irishman' be the saviour of Israel?

Isaac Herzog
Isaac Herzog
Chaim Herzog

John Costello

With Palestinian rage reaching boiling point, a rise in random terror attacks and the average citizen tired of living in the shadow of war, Israel is at a crossroads. But can an 'Irishman' save the Jewish State on March 17?

Isaac Herzog certainly believes so. He is currently topping the polls and looks a good bet to oust Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition when Israelis go to the polls on St Patrick's Day.

While born in Tel Aviv, Herzog's ideology flows directly from his Dublin-reared father. Born in Belfast in 1918, Chaim Herzog moved to 33 Bloomfield Avenue Portobello in Dublin in 1922, when his father Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog was appointed chief rabbi of Ireland.

Rabbi Yitzhak's economically progressive political views saw him become a close confident of Éamon de Valera and it was through de Valera's urging he became a fluent Irish speaker. Indeed, such was his cosy relationship with the leaders of the newly formed Irish Free State, he was nicknamed the Sinn Féin Rabbi.

And it was this nickname that caused panic amongst British authorities when Herzog left Ireland to take up the position of chief rabbi of British-administered Palestine in 1936. His close connections with Irish nationalism and, in particular, Sinn Féin came under close scrutiny at a time when the British were battling constant uprisings from Jewish militant groups.

When Herzog arrived in Palestine his experiences in Ireland had a deep impact on his role. Historian Shulamit Eliash of Bar-Ilan University believes his efforts to turn Israel in an 'halachic state' (a Jewish state ruled by Jewish religious law) had connections with de Valera's role for the Catholic church in Ireland.

Given the fact Dev sent Herzog a copy of the Irish Constitution to get his insight, it is interesting to note the explicit guarantee protecting religious freedom and equal rights for Jews, Protestants and other religious minorities is something Herzog mirrored in his blueprint for an halachic state.

But while Rabbi Yitzhak tried to create the philosophical framework of the soon-to-be born Jewish state, his son Chaim ended up fighting for it.

A graduate of Dublin's Wesley College, Chaim served as a major in the British army during World War II. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War erupted his experience proved a valuable asset and he was appointed head of the Israel Defence Force's Military Intelligence Branch. By the time he retired from the IDF in 1962, he had risen to the rank of Major-General.

After leaving the army he formed Herzog, Fox & Neeman, one of the largest law firms in Israel. However, even a glowing legal career could not keep him away from politics and he eventually would serve as Israel's president from 1983 to 1993.

Now that his son is in the running to be Israel's next prime minister, the family's political dynasty is being hailed as Israel's answer to the Ken-nedys.

A member of parliament since 2003, Isaac 'Bougie' Herzog has already held a diverse range of ministry posts and, most recently, served as social minister. And it's his social, as well as his peace agenda, that underpins his campaign as an alternative to Netanyahu's politically and economically right-wing government.

The married father-of-three, who was born in 1960, has forged a new political alliance among the centre-left parties in an attempt to achieve this and challenge the dominance of the right-wing parties.

And while it is extraordinarily difficult to forecast the ultimate outcome of elections in Israel because of the country's unique constellation of parties and the central role of coalition-building, there is a growing sense change is in the air.

The electorate is at its wits end with the dismal economic circumstances and is increasingly despondent about the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. Herzog's Labour Party is therefore hoping that Israelis' disaffection with Netanyahu's economic policies (which are seen to benefit the uber rich and leave the middle and lower classes struggling) and the failure to attempt to establish a workable peace process will see him seize victory.

And, if elected, the Herzog family's close connection with and knowledge of politics in Ireland will most likely be an asset as Herzog is insistent upon reviving talks with the Palestinian Authority and taking moves that will push Palestinian statehood closer to reality if he becomes prime minister.

So on St Patrick's Day many Israelis are hoping the luck of the Irish rubs off on Isaac 'Bougie' Herzog and that a new left-wing government drags the Jewish State back from the brink of a right-wing abyss.

Indo Review

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