Chaim Herzog: Irish-Born Jew

Image: President Chaim Herzog (in grey suit) and his wife Ora wish fellow Israelis a happy Sukkot in the sukkah at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, Oct 4, 1992. Photo by Sa’ar Ya’acov, some rights reserved under Creative Commons 3.0.

Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast, Ireland on Sept 17, 1918. He lived to become the sixth President of the State of Israel.

We tend not to think of overlap between the categories “Irish” and “Jewish” but in fact Ireland had Jewish presence as far back as the 12th century. When Britian expelled its Jews in 1290 they also had to leave Ireland, but there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the country from the 15th century to the present day.

Herzog was the son of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog and his wife Sarah Hillman Herzog. Rabbi Herzog served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

Chaim Herzog made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] in 1935. He enlisted in the Haganah during the Arab Revolt, and in 1938 moved to England to study law. After completing his law studies, he volunteered for service in the British Army in WWII in 1942. He was an officer in the Normandy Invasion and saw the horrors of the Holocaust first hand as he was part of the force that liberated the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.

In 1947, Herzog was released from the British Army and returned to Israel. He joined the Haganah’s intelligence unit and served as chief of security for the Jewish Agency. During the War of Independence he served as the intelligence and operations officer of the 7th regiment of the newly-formed Israel Defense Force (IDF) and took part in the battles to break through to Jerusalem including the bloody battle at Latrun.

Herzog served in many different roles in the government and military of Israel. Notably he served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN from 1975-78, when he made perhaps his most famous speech, denouncing the UN Resolution 3379, the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution.

In 1981 he was elected to the Knesset and served there from 1981-1983, when he was elected by the Knesset to the Presidency. (For an explanation of Israeli government roles and terms, see Government of Israel: Vocabulary.) He was the first President of the State of Israel to make a state visit to Germany and the first to make a state visit to the United States.

Chaim Herzog retired after two terms as President and died in 1997. He is buried on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.