The Israeli parliament on Wednesday elected Isaac Herzog, a former leader of the Labour Party, as the 11th President as the country faces a political struggle and ousting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The centrist-left leader, Herzog won the presidency after defeating rival candidate Miriam Peretz by 87 votes.
Herzog will assume the office next month and will succeed Reuven Rivlin.
He was first elected to the Parliament in 2003 and went on to lead the Labour Party and held several portfolios in the coalition government. His most recent public post was as head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages immigration.
Harzog was defeated by Netanyahu in the 2015 parliamentary elections. He was picked as President as his former nemesis faces a toppling by a cross-partisan alliance of challengers.
The President’s role in Israel is largely ceremonial and mostly meant to promote unity among ethnic and religious groups of the country. This comes days after Israel was engaged in a deadly fight with Palestinian militants in Gaza. It touched off rare mob violence among the Jewish majority and Arab minority within Israeli cities and claimed the lives of hundreds of people including children.
“It is essential, really essential, to tend to the open wounds that have been opened in our society recently,” Herzog said in parliament while giving an acceptance speech.
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Speaking in the Parliament, Herzog also promised to defend “Israel’s international standing and its good name in the family of nations, battle anti-semitism and hatred of Israel, and preserve the pillars of our democracy.”
A lawyer by profession, Herzog is the son of the late Israeli president Chaim Herzog, who also served as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations.
He is popularly known by his childhood nickname “Bougie”, a combination of the Hebrew word for doll “buba” and a word for toy used by French children, “joujou”.
In May, the conflict between Israel and Palestine flared after the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, demanded Israeli security forces leave the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem following confrontations there with Palestinians.
The conflict snowballed into a larger battle between the arch-rivals as Hamas claimed that several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli airstrikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa.
During the 11 days of fighting, Gaza militants launched more than a thousand rockets, according to Israel’s army. In retaliation, the Israeli Army also carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Islamist groups in Gaza. In one of the airstrikes, a 12-story al-Jalaa tower in Gaza that housed major international media offices was also destroyed. This sparked worldwide criticism while news organisations demanded an explanation from Israel.
This killed at least 253 Palestinians, news agency Reuters reported citing Gaza Medical officials. While in Israel, at least 13 people lost their lives.
The violence eventually paused after Egypt mediated a ceasefire between Palestine and Israel.
(With agency inputs)