March 2. 2024. 1:19

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Profile: Herzog could serve as ‘honest broker’ to dampen down Israel’s strife

President Isaac Herzog on Monday urged the Israeli government to call a halt to the planned judicial overhaul legislation that has ignited some of the biggest nationwide demonstrations in Israel’s history.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” Herzog said, speaking after tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in spontaneous protests on Sunday night, following prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s firing of defence minister Yoav Gallant from his own Likud party for urging the suspension of the controversial legislation.

“We saw very difficult scenes last night and the entire people are deeply worried. Security, the economy, society – all are threatened. I ask the leaders of all the Knesset factions to behave responsibly and courageously. Come to your senses now. This is a moment for leadership and responsibility.”

The president of Israel plays a largely ceremonial role, but Herzog took the unprecedented step of intervening in the current crisis earlier this month, warning that Israel was on the edge of the abyss.

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His compromise proposals and offer to host a dialogue was welcomed by the opposition but flatly rejected by the government. In a joint statement the coalition parties described it as “one-sided” and “unacceptable”.

Herzog was a former leader of the Labour Party, and although some on the right question whether he can act as an honest broker, he remains the most likely figure to act as a mediator if talks take place to bridge the gaps between the opposition, who believe Israeli democracy is in danger, and the coalition, who believe the unelected judiciary has too much influence.

Herzog’s Irish roots are well known. His father, Chaim Herzog, who served two terms as the sixth president of Israel from 1983 to 1993, was born in Belfast and raised in Dublin.

His paternal grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first chief rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and a sympathiser of the republican cause, earning him the nickname the Sinn Féin rabbi.