Menu JTA Search

Israel and Jewish World Mourn Death of Israel’s Sixth President

Former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who played a major role in the founding of the Jewish state, died Thursday at Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 78.

An army general, jurist, diplomat and politician, the native of Ireland is being mourned and saluted by Israel and the Jewish world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “Chaim Herzog endowed the presidency with majesty and nobility.

“We will remember Chaim Herzog as a shining diplomat and a soldier who made decisive contributions to the establishment of the State of Israel, both as a man and as a president.”

President Ezer Weizman, in his tribute to Herzog, described him as “a true Zionist, a warrior, a scholar, and a good man.

“He got up each morning with one thought in his head,” said Labor Party leader and former Premier Shimon Peres: “What’s good for the State of Israel?”

American Jews were shocked and saddened by the news.

Some had worked closely with Herzog when he was the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s and was a key combatant in the fight against the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.

“A giant has fallen,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League. “Israel and the world Jewish community have lost a dedicated and eloquent champion.

“He was a rare combination of someone with high principles and intellectual achievement, as well as a man of action when action was needed.”

Said Jacob Stein, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, “He brought the word and message of the Jewish state to the countries of the world with eloquence and elegance.”

Only a few weeks ago, Herzog won a warm reception when he appeared in Washington before the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.

“During all my years,” he said in his speech, “I was inspired by my belief in the eternity of Israel and the compulsion to work towards it.

“Beyond every setback, I see the saga of remarkable achievements in every field of life. The tragedies that befell the Jewish people in my lifetime have no equal, but our victories and achievements have surpassed the dreams of generations. That is why one can dream, one should dream, one must dream.”

Born Vivian Herzog in Belfast, Ireland, on Sept. 17, 1918, Herzog was the second son of Yitzhak Herzog, who was later to become the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the State of Israel.

Herzog was Ireland’s bantamweight boxing champion before immigrating to pre- state Palestine with his family in 1935.

He was an officer in the British army during World War II, took part in the Allied landing at Normandy and was present at the Nazi surrender in 1945.

Herzog fought in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and later became the first head of the intelligence branch of the Israeli army.

He rose to national and international prominence during the 1967 Six-Day War, when as a reservist general, he provided articulate and credible military commentaries on the fighting for a worldwide radio and television audience.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when he was retired from the army and in private life, Herzog took on the same role voluntarily.

After 1967, Herzog was military governor of the West Bank. In the 1970s, he served as the ambassador to the United Nations, where he drew international media attention in 1975, when, standing at the podium, he tore up the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Herzog was a Labor Party Knesset member in the 1980s, and, from 1983 to 1993, served as Israel’s sixth president.

With tax expert Ya’acov Ne’eman and British-born attorney Michael Fox, Herzog formed the law firm Herzog, Fox, Ne’eman in the early 1970s. It is now one of Israel’s leading law firms.

He wrote several books, including a history of the Six-Day War, “Israel’s Finest Hour,” and an account of the Yom Kippur War, “The War of Atonement.”

He was feted a few weeks ago in New York by the Conference of Presidents for the publication of his latest book, a memoir.

The conference was slated to hold a memorial ceremony for Herzog on Friday.

“Because of his appreciation of the importance of the relationship with Diaspora communities, he created lasting bonds that transcended his years” as Israel’s president, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference.

Herzog wrote in “Living History,” his new book, “When I disembark, I hope that everything my generation and I dreamed of and fought for will come true.

“I pray my children and grandchildren will see a strong and vigorous Israel at peace with its neighbors and continuing to represent the traditions that have sustained our people throughout the ages.

“I wish for a world in which Israel vindicates its promise to be a light unto the nations.”

The Israeli Embassy in Washington has opened up a book of condolences for the former president.

Herzog is survived by a wife, two sons and a daughter.

His widow, Ora, is the sister of Suzy Eban, who is the wife of veteran Israeli statesman Abba Eban.

NEXT STORY