President Isaac Herzog
President Isaac HerzogHaim Tuito

Israeli president Isaac Herzog commented on the ongoing efforts to recover the hostages at the Arutz Sheva - Israel National News Jerusalem Conference.

“Our nation is currently in an era that mixes deep longing with indescribable bravery. This is perhaps the most Jewish of stories throughout the generations, and now it has reached our generation. I have attempted to explain this to many families and communities that have come to visit. On Passover, we read ‘In every generation, they rise up to destroy us’, and that has happened to us as well. This generation has shown uncommon bravery.”

“Since the war broke out, two tracts of land have been evacuated, and 1,515 individuals have died, besides hostages and those wounded. From the first moment, Michal and I have been mainly focused on strengthening the spirit of the nation against the tragic events of October 7th and everything that came after it. Bereavement once again visited Israel this morning, when we heard that another soldier had been killed in action, and I send my condolences to his family. We are continually involved in meetings with the families of the hostages.”

“I believe, and continually restate, what Maimonides said - there is no greater commandment than recovering captives. We are extensively involved in psychological health, public and individual, and meet with the families evacuated from the north and south. The hotel where this conference is being held also houses dozens of evacuees from Sderot. People are living in uncertainty, more so for those from the north. We meet with Jewish communities under attack and solidarity missions. We are also involved in the matter discussed earlier, Israel's place among the nations, our just cause in this war, and a variety of other topics.”

Regarding the divide in the nation before October 7th, he stated: “We continually meet bereaved families and they all cry out not to go back to October 6th. We need to do everything possible to avoid returning to the public discourse we had then.”

“Our job, which I have taken personally upon myself, is to do everything possible to create unity. Unity does not mean conformity. We have disagreements. There are serious questions among the public. This is legitimate and correct in a democratic county. We must protect public discourse in as honorable a manner as possible to allow us to reach the right decisions in the future.”

Regarding the negotiations for a prisoner exchange agreement, President. Herzog stated: “I don't think that there is any disagreement about what the price for each should be. I think that we need to put such conversations outside of politics. There is no commandment greater than redemption of captives, though not at any price. No one is setting prices for the Cabinet. The matter will be decided there. I think that we need to give a chance for pressures that will increase the likelihood of prisoner exchange agreement being negotiated quickly so as to retrieve the citizens who were kidnapped and are being held in captivity.”

He later shared some details of the negotiations with Qatar during his visit to Germany. “We held negotiations. I don't want to say if we are close or not, but there is goodwill from many parties involved in the subject, and I hope that this will bring the desired outcome. I cannot promise we will not see many disappointments, and we will need to lower our threshold of optimism and make extremely sensible assessments. To the public, I say that we need to respect the families of the hostages, understand their feelings, and know that if there are things that you want to say, sometimes they need to be kept private. We must understand our love, support, and solidarity with the families, who are going through hell that I cannot wish on anyone, and not judge anyone until you have been in the same situation. I hope that we can recover them quickly, and with God's help hear some good news.”

“It is most painful for me that the story of our state is not being told, but today, many people rely on social media and not on standard media outlets. Recently, the president's house hosted executives from TikTok to show them the many shortcomings and failures of their algorithm that allows extensive incitement, antisemitism, and hatred of Israel. Some of these things have been corrected, and some are still being discussed.”

He also addressed the recent controversy regarding Israel's entry to the Eurovision song contest. The contest had ordered Israel to change the lyrics of its entry, saying they were too political and would not be permitted. “It is an interesting discussion, and I am attempting to help in any way I can. We have spoken about public diplomacy, and I think that it is important that Israel appear in the Eurovision contest, which is also a statement because there are those who are attempting to keep us off of any platform at all. I think that it is important that the broadcasting corporation hold a dialogue regarding the Eurovision contest and be smart as well as right.”

“There was a song that represented Israel in 1992 that stated ‘it's not just sports’. This really is not just sports, it is a matter with political and public diplomacy implications that must be considered as such. As I have said, we must not only be right, but also smart.”