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Isaac Herzog to be sworn in as Israel’s 11th president

What’s happening: This afternoon the Knesset will host the swearing in ceremony for Isaac ‘Buji’ Herzog to replace Reuven ‘Rubi’ Rivlin as President of Israel.

  • Outgoing President Rivlin has left his successor a letter stating,  “The truth is I am a little envious of you. In a short time you will discover the tremendous privilege that has fallen to you … among the tribes, in the shadow the controversies and rifts, you will find brave people who do not talk about the ‘together’, they just live it. Day to day and hour by hour. In their homes, those on the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, veterans and new immigrants, religious and traditional, young and old. People of all faiths, sectors and ethnicities. All of them, Israelis. Beautiful, enlightening, and generous.”
  • Rivlin received a phone call yesterday from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who expressed his hope that peace would be achieved as soon as possible.
  • Ahead of taking the oath, yesterday Herzog prayed at the Western Wall and placed a note in the wall in which he wrote that he will “devote himself to unity among our people and true love for Israel”.

Context: Herzog is a former leader of the Labour Party and government minister. He is leaving his position as head of the Jewish Agency.

  • The president is elected by the 120 members of Knesset. Herzog won last month’s vote convincingly, receiving 87 votes from across the political spectrum.
  • Herzog is following in the footsteps of his father Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president.
  • At the Knesset ceremony he will swear his allegiance on the same bible used by his father in 1983. The bible is a family heirloom, over 100 years old.
  • Last week, President Joe Biden hosted Rivlin in the White House as part of his farewell tour.  Also, while in the US, Rivlin appealed to President Abbas to return to peace talks. Rivlin told a gathering of diplomats at the UN, “We are not condemned to live together, we are destined to live together.  It is up to us to end the conflict. Let us forget the past. Let us build confidence. There are possibilities to ensure a bright future for our people.”
  • In June 2015, Rivlin made a seminal speech relating to the four tribes of Israeli society. He presented his vision of a new Israeli order based on partnership between; secular, national-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab.
  • The role of president is largely ceremonial but following parliamentary elections he plays a key role in deciding who gets the mandate to form a government.
  • He also signs every law enacted by the Knesset and treaties and agreements with foreign countries that have been ratified by the Knesset.
  • The president also has the power to pardon or commute sentences. This could become relevant if Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is convicted in his ongoing corruption trial.

Looking ahead:  This afternoon’s ceremony will begin when Herzog will be greeted by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy in the Knesset plaza. He will be received by a guard of honour and a 45-piece IDF band will play the national anthem, “Hatikvah.”

  • Herzog will then enter the chamber and be sworn in as president. At the conclusion of this part of the ceremony, two IDF rabbis will blow shofars (ram’s horn), the Speaker will read a blessing for the President of Israel, and MKs will chant “May he live”.
  • In his inaugural address to the Knesset, Herzog is expected to focus on the importance of internal unity, to heal rifts and polarisation in Israeli society, and protect Israel’s democracy.
  • Following the ceremony at the Knesset, Herzog will make the short journey to the President Residence where there will be a second ‘handover ceremony’ with Rivlin.

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