Israeli president acknowledges Diaspora concern, defends country’s democracy

Isaac Herzog told Jewish media he understood the concern about the new government and wanted to assure Jews around the world that Israel’s democracy remains strong.

President Isaac Herzog has acknowledged Diaspora concern about the incoming Israeli government, assuring the international community that Israeli democracy remains “vibrant and strong”.

The president was speaking to journalists at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem last week, the day after he received a late-night phone call from incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, advising him that Likud had signed a coalition agreement the Haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas and the far-Right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam.

The coalition agreement requires legislative changes to increase ministerial powers. The first of these will give the new national security minister, ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, more powers over the police. Another change will allow Aryeh Deri, head of Shas, to become finance minister and minister of interior, despite his recent conviction for tax fraud.

The new government also plans changes to give a Knesset majority power to override Supreme Court decisions.

“It’s no secret that the outcome of the recent elections in Israel has raised many real questions from people around the world and, of course, Jewish communities, including people who have approached me,” the president said.

President Isaac Herzog addresses the Jewish Media Summit

“Like my fellow Israelis, Jews around the world care deeply about Israel and want to know that they can still find their place in our collective. I hear these concerns and I understand them.

“I would like to reassure you that Israeli democracy is vibrant and strong. The many voices that compose us do not point to the weakness of our democracy but to its strength. Through the flow of freedom of speech, human and civil rights always have been and always will be pillars of our Jewish and democratic state. I know that if we can stay open to hearing each other we will find that we share much more than we might think.”

Herzog criticised a recent editorial in the New York Times headlined ‘The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy’. The editorial argued the new government “marks a qualitative and alarming break with all the other governments in Israel’s 75-year history” and that Netanyahu does not have “a broad mandate to make concessions to ultrareligious and ultranationalist parties that are putting the ideal of a democratic Jewish state in jeopardy”.

The president said: “I have real disputes and arguments with a recent article in the New York Times, for example, because they do not epitomise or reflect the real nature of Israeli society. We have strong debates in our society, in our parliament, in our public arena, and this is exactly the story of Israeli democracy.” 

President Herzog said Israel recognised Diaspora Jews as family and partners, sharing in the fight against haters of Israel and rising antisemitism throughout the world.

He said he relied on the Jewish media to “give voice to a wide variety of perspectives on Israel”.

“It is important for all as a nation, the Jewish nation, both in Israel and throughout the world, to encourage ongoing dialogue within the Jewish people. And you, my friends, are a primary vessel for this discourse, as well. Because we in Israel at times lack an understanding of the Jewish people around the world, and Jews around the world in various communities lack an understanding of what Israeli society is all about.

“We must keep our discourse respectful, open, and constructive. Above all, we must never allow internal cracks to develop into fully-fledged cleavages that rip at our social fabric and undermine our sense of unity.”

Photo: President Isaac Herzog (Office of the President)