Belfast Telegraph

Belfast link to Israel's rising star

By John Costello

With Palestinian rage reaching boiling-point, a rise in random terror attacks and the average citizen tired of living in the shadow of war, Israel is at a crossroads. But can an "Irishman" save the Jewish state on March 17?

Isaac Herzog certainly believes so. He is currently topping the polls and looks a good bet to oust Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition when Israelis go to the polls on St Patrick's Day.

While born in Tel Aviv, Herzog's ideology flows directly from his Belfast-born father. Born at Cliftonpark Avenue in 1918, Chaim Herzog moved to Dublin in 1922, when his father, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was appointed chief rabbi of Ireland.

Rabbi Yitzhak later left Ireland to take up the position of chief rabbi of British-administered Palestine in 1936.

But while he tried to create the framework of the soon-to-be Jewish state, his son ended up fighting for it.

Chaim served as a major in the British Army during the Second World War. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War erupted, his experience proved a valuable asset and he was appointed head of the Israel Defence Force's military intelligence branch.

After leaving the army in 1962, he formed Herzog, Fox & Neeman, one of the largest law firms in Israel. He went on to serve as Israel's president from 1983 to 1993.

Now that his son is in the running to be Israel's next prime minister, the family's political dynasty is being hailed as Israel's answer to the Kennedys.

A member of parliament since 2003, it's Isaac 'Bougie' Herzog's social, as well as his peace, agenda that underpins his campaign as an alternative to Netanyahu's politically and economically right-wing government.

And, while it is extraordinarily difficult to forecast the ultimate outcome of elections in Israel, because of the country's unique constellation of parties and the central role of coalition-building, there is a growing sense that change is in the air.

So, on St Patrick's Day, many Israelis are hoping the luck of the Irish rubs off on 'Bougie' Herzog and that a new left-wing government drags the Jewish state back from the brink of a right-wing abyss.

  • John Costello is a freelance writer and media consultant based in Dublin

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