President Isaac Herzog on Sunday told AJC Global Forum that Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry are crucial to the future of the only Jewish state.
“I find it actually a healthy process where we air out our differences and talk to each other,” Herzog said, adding that consensus on the core issues in question matters not only for Israelis but the Jewish Diaspora as a whole.
In April, he launched “Kol Ha’am—Voice of the People: The President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue,” aimed at connecting the Jewish people with constructive conversation and identifying new young Jewish leaders.
“I believe part of the problem is a lack of understanding of what Israel is all about,” Herzog said. “There’s a judgmental attitude in certain spheres of American public life, in certain quarters, that judges us according to a certain scale that is not always realistic about where we live and what we do.”
Herzog was in conversation with American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO Ted Deutch at AJC Global Forum in Tel Aviv, in front of 1,500 Jewish advocates from more than 60 nations, on the first of four days of discussions about key issues affecting Israel and the worldwide Jewish community.
“I have huge respect for American Jewish Committee, for its historic role, for what it does for the Jewish world and Israel,” said Herzog, who comes from a long line of distinguished Israeli leaders and diplomats.
In praising AJC, the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people, Herzog said the organization can help ensure any negative perceptions of how Israel is viewed in some sectors of Diaspora Jewry do not become reality.
“We are a small nation, which is truly challenged by an enemy who works day in, day out to undermine us, to kill our citizens and employ terror against us to surround us on all sides and rush to the bomb and spread antisemitism and hatred,” he said. And on the other hand, we are a nation that is extremely successful, reaching incredible heights … we are judged wrongly by what we do and how strategic we are.”
In addressing the 400 high school and college students as well as young adults present at Global Forum, Herzog said their advocacy is both welcome and needed.
“You will have to take a lead role and add another chapter in the history of the Jewish people,” Herzog said. “And I would say that one [challenge] is the challenge of unity, meaning not uniformity, but unity, meaning the respect, deep love and affection between the nation state of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and its people and the Jewish Diaspora, wherever it may be. All Jews must be able to practice their beliefs without fears and with no harassment and be connected in their hearts to the State of Israel.”
Herzog also spoke about the judicial reform proposals in Israel. Calling the question of the boundaries of the three branches of government a “legitimate debate,” he cautioned it was one that needs “amicable solutions” to succeed.
“These are critical days and I sincerely hope that the leaders and the elected officials will take the right decisions, because the people of Israel want a wide agreement, a consensus on the core issues without, of course, hurting the basic rules of democracy and the independence of the judiciary,” Herzog said.
In March, Herzog unveiled what he called the “People’s Framework,” a compromise proposal in response to the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the nation’s judicial system. Herzog said it was important “to move forward with a dialogue.” Toward that end, Herzog has been hosting thousands of Israelis to discuss the best solutions to accommodate all facets of Israel’s multicultural society.
“And we have to face that reality and try our best to come to amicable solutions which preserve our democracy … and protect the independence of our judiciary,” which Herzog called a “very noble arm of government.”