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Israel Elects New President, Still Waiting on New Government
Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal celebrate after he is elected president by Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Elects New President, Still Waiting on New Government

Isaac Herzog secures landslide victory in parliament

With last-minute efforts to agree on a government still ongoing, Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday elected a new president, choosing Jewish Agency Chairman and former Labor party leader Isaac Herzog to replace outgoing President Reuven Rivlin after seven years in office.

I assume this tremendous responsibility and accept the privilege to serve the entire Israeli public. I intend to be a president of all people … to build bridges of understandings and to bring closer those here among us, as well as our brothers and sisters overseas

Herzog, a seasoned parliamentary veteran with decades of experience in politics and statesmanship, promised to unite and heal the nation after learning of the results.

“I assume this tremendous responsibility and accept the privilege to serve the entire Israeli public,” the president-elect said. “I intend to be a president of all people … to build bridges of understandings and to bring closer those here among us, as well as our brothers and sisters overseas.”

The son of Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog, the 60-year-old Herzog will take office on July 9, and will serve as the nation’s 11th head of state.

Israel’s president, a mostly ceremonial position, is chosen by the Knesset once every seven years, with 120 parliament members casting secret ballots to determine the victor.

The title of Citizen No. 1 … comes with great responsibility. I have no doubt that you will carry it superbly. I will be proud to pass it on to you. Long live the State of Israel. Long live the president of the State of Israel

“While the Knesset is the house of debate and argument, as we’ve clearly seen lately, the president’s residence is one of dialogue and partnership,” outgoing President Rivlin told Herzog following his triumph.

“The title of Citizen No. 1 … comes with great responsibility. I have no doubt that you will carry it superbly. I will be proud to pass it on to you. Long live the State of Israel. Long live the president of the State of Israel.”

After badly losing to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu while heading the Labor party in the 2015 parliamentary elections, Herzog this time notched a resounding triumph, orchestrating an 87-26-vote landslide unprecedented in Israeli history.

The savvy politician bested Miriam Peretz, a bereaved mother and prominent educator and public speaker who became a beloved figure in Israel after losing two sons in combat.

“I had the honor of running against a dear, worthy person whom I admire and cherish,” Peretz said in her concession speech. “I came from a place of doing good for all Israelis, and I will continue to strive and work for unity. That is the biggest challenge facing our country.”

The relatively mellow and polite campaign was the mirror image of the previous presidential election, which saw endless mudslinging, the use of private detectives, allegations of secret affairs, claims of extortion and severe corruption charges, before Rivlin was picked.

Netanyahu congratulated Herzog in the Knesset on Wednesday, telling the president-elect that his father “represented Israel, around the world and here, too, in an awe-inspiring manner and I’m certain you’ll do the same. I wish you success on behalf of myself, the government and the entire State of Israel.”

“Isaac Herzog, the next president of Israel, former party leader, one of us. We’re so proud of him, there is no one more worthy than him for this role,” Labor Chair Merav Michaeli told The Media Line via a spokesperson.

“The tremendous overwhelming support he has won from members of this house speaks volumes of how well-liked he is by vast parts of the Israeli society.”

“He’s been planning and working on this for a long time, for years. This was a well-oiled campaign,” Itzik Elrov, a political strategist and former adviser to the Labor party told The Media Line.

“[Herzog] is a very gifted politician, and he went through 120 MPs one by one to make sure they were behind him. This was decided a long time ago.”

With the ho-hum presidential race decided and in the books, the nation turned its eyes to the slightly more crucial affair of government negotiations.

What was expected to be concluded on Sunday night or Monday at the latest has now dragged into Wednesday evening, as the Bennett-Lapid government, intended to unseat Netanyahu after 12 straight years in office, continues to hit snags in its inception.

With Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government, handed to him by President Rivlin last month, set to expire at midnight, the sides have a precious few hours to hammer out the final details.

The remaining hurdle Wednesday appeared to be a seat on the country’s Judicial Appointment Committee, over which designated prime minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party and Lapid’s center-left bloc are still battling.

The projected coalition will include parties across the political spectrum from far Right to Center to far Left and will incorporate a predominantly Arab party for the first time in the nation’s history.

If no government is presented by midnight, Israel will in all likelihood head to another general election, its fifth in two and a half years, with Netanyahu remaining in office in the meantime.

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