JERUSALEM – Isaac Herzog pledged to heal deep divisions in Israeli society on Wednesday as he was sworn in to become the country’s 11th president.
With one hand on a Bible in front of the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – Herzog, 60, assumed the largely ceremonial position that is designed to serve as the country’s moral compass.
Herzog vowed to be “everyone’s president”, adding that “the central expectation” of all Israelis “of me, of all of us, is to lower the tone, lower the flames, calm things down “.
“My mission, the mission of my mandate, is to do everything to rebuild hope,” he said in his inauguration speech.
Herzog takes office after a tumultuous period in which Israel experienced four deadlocked elections in just two years.
The political unrest, along with the coronavirus crisis, has exacerbated tensions between Israel’s religious and nationalist right and its more secular and conciliatory left, between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority, and between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The polarizing regime of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges and has often attempted to pit segments of the population against each other, added to the charged environment.
Netanyahu’s 12-year reign ended last month after a diverse patchwork of parties spanning Israel’s political and ethnic divide formed a new coalition government.
Healing and unity were the main themes of Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony. Military rabbis sounded ram’s horns, followed by a performance by a children’s choir. The assembled people sang the national anthem of Israel. Amidst applause, Herzog and outgoing President Reuven Rivlin walked away from the podium together.
Herzog, whose father, Chaim, was president of Israel in the 1980s, is due to serve for a single seven-year term. Chaim Herzog was also Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
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The new president’s pedigree includes his grandfather, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, who was the country’s first chief rabbi. His uncle, Abba Eban, was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the UN and the United States.
Herzog was elected president by the Knesset last month. He had previously been leader of the Labor Party and leader of the opposition in parliament. After leaving politics in 2018, he headed the Jewish Agency, a non-profit organization that works closely with the Israeli government to promote Jewish immigration to Israel and serve Jewish communities abroad.
Taking office at a time of deep divisions in Israeli society, Herzog said during his election that he intended to be “everyone’s president” and work to preserve Israel’s democracy.