February 26. 2024. 4:52

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

President Isaac Herzog has welcomed prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to delay the passage of the judicial overhaul legislation which opponents claim will undermine Israeli democracy and end the balance of power between the branches of government.

“Stopping the legislation is the right thing. This is the time to begin a sincere, serious, and responsible dialogue that will urgently calm the waters and lower the flames,” he said. “I call on everyone to act responsibly. Protests and demonstrations, on whichever side — yes. Violence — absolutely not! If one side wins, the state will lose. We must remain one people and one state — Jewish and democratic.”

Ahead of Netanyahu’s announcement and following his decision on Sunday night to fire defence minister Yoav Gallant, Herzog had urged the prime minister to call a halt to the controversial legislation.

[ Israel’s Netanyahu expected to announce freezing of judicial reform plans as mass protests and strikes sweep country ]

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.