Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Profile of Israel’s Next President

March 23, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Chaim Herzog, elected Israel’s sixth President today, comes to that office after a long and varied career that includes distinguished service as a soldier, statesman, lawyer, businessman and philanthropist. As a public figure he is widely admired and respected by Israelis of all political affiliations.

Herzog was born in September, 1918 in Belfast northern Ireland, where his father, the late Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog served as Chief Rabbi, later to become Chief Rabbi of Israel. The Herzog family moved to Jerusalem when Chaim was 16. He studied of the Hebron Yeshiva where his older brother, Yaacov, was an outstanding pupil. Another classmate was Menachem Elon, the future Supreme Court Justice and coalition-backed Presidential candidate whom Herzog defeated in the Knesset vote today.

(Yaacov Herzog rose to become Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office and a senior aide to Premiers David Ben Gurion and Levi Eshkol. His death at an early age from cancer deprived Israel of one of its most brilliant public servants.)


Chaim Herzog was educated of Cambridge University in England where he read law. Early in World War II, he transferred to Sandhurst, Britain’s national military academy (the equivalent of West Point) and was commissioned an officer in British army intelligence.

He served with distinction in France and Germany and was with the first Allied forces to cross the Rhine. Herzog participated personally in the capture of SS chief Heinrich Himmler. A war wound left him with a permanent hearing impairment in one ear.

Reminiscing recently about his World War II experiences, Herzog recalled his presence, as the personal representative of Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery, at the first conference of Jewish displaced persons, held at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The qualifications for that assignment were to be a senior intelligence officer in the British army and to speak Yiddish fluently.


On his return to Palestine after the war, Herzog joined Hagana, the pre-State Jewish defense force for which he undertook major assignments. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the newly formed army of the State of Israel and served as its chief of military intelligence from 1948-50.

He returned to that post 10 years later for another three year tour of duty. It was Herzog who laid down the patterns and practices of Israeli military intelligence which are operative today. He also served in senior command position on the central and southern fronts during the 1950s.

Herzog retired from the army with the rank of general to enter industry. He became the Israeli representative of Sir Isaac Wolfson’s “Great Universal Stores,” a financial empire with manifold commercial and industrial interests in Israel. Beginning in the early 1970’s, Herzog served as a senior partner in a leading Tel Aviv law firm while maintaining his business ties. He served on the boards of directors of several leading banks and industrial firms.

From 1975-1978 he was Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations where he earned an international reputation as an outstanding diplomat. His speeches during the bitter General Assembly debate over equating Zionism with racism became classic texts in modern Israeli history and are studied in Israeli schools and in Jewish schools abroad.

Herzog is a prolific author. He has published several books on Israel’s wars which became world-wide best-sellers and anthologies of his speeches. His face and voice are familiar around the world as a radio and television commentator and interviewee.

Herzog has always found time to involve himself in public, non-political affairs. He founded “Variety in Israel” which raises money and builds facilities for disadvantaged children. He is president of the World ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training) and of ORT Israel, posts which require considerable time and effort given the scope of ORT activities in Israel and around the world.


As a politician, Herzog was a diligent Knesset member, striving to foster links between the electorate and their elected representatives in parliament. In his home district, Herzliya, he opened a “parliamentary bureau” where local residents could bring their complaints and problems.

Several other Knesset members have since followed his example. Knesset members are elected from party lists under a system of proportional representation and do not directly represent localities or constituencies.

Herzog’s wife, Ora, is a sister of Suzy Eban, wife of former Foreign Minister Abba Eban. She has long headed the “Beautiful Israel Association” concerned with improving the quality of life in the country. Before that, she headed the Arts and Culture Council of the Education Ministry. According to her husband, Mrs. Herzog could take credit for establishing the annual Bible Quiz held in Jerusalem.

The Herzogs have three sons and a daughter. Two sons are army officers. Their daughter attends school. Their eldest son, Joel, is married to the daughter of Nessim Gaon, the multi-millionaire Sephardic businessman and philanthropist who lives in Geneva.

Recommended from JTA