By Jonathan Lis
President Isaac Herzog on the ‘terrible lies’ spread by Lavrov, his insistence on maintaining political neutrality, Israel’s budding relationship with Turkey, and his hopes for the country on the eve of its 74th Independence Day
President Isaac Herzog was astonished by remarks made this week by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which included the claim that “even Hitler had Jewish blood.” In his first response to the affair, Herzog made clear that he expects Lavrov to retract his words and apologize.
“The truth is I read them several times,” he recounted on Tuesday. “At first, I couldn’t believe that they had been uttered by a Russian foreign minister. They made me angry and disgusted. During a week when we are remembering the Holocaust, of all weeks, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov chooses to spread lies, terrible lies, which smell of antisemitism. I expect him to retract his words and apologize.”
While Herzog doesn’t believe that Lavrov’s remarks will harm bilateral relations, they do threaten to cast a cloud over them. “It’s necessary and proper that he correct those remarks,” Herzog added, noting the crucial contribution of the Red Army in defeating the Nazis.
This weekend, Herzog will be marking 10 months as Citizen No. 1. Once the chairman of the Labor Party and the left’s candidate for prime minister, today he avoids like the plague anything that smacks of a political statement: He refuses to say whether he stands by his call for Benjamin Netanyahu to retire from political life, or say how he stands on issuing pardons to disgraced public figures, and he isn’t ready to affirm support for the two-state solution.
“Today I’m no longer a politician,” he explains. “Anything I say that has any political significance will undermine my ability to be an objective president who can reach out to all parts of the nation and tell them all, ‘You’re my sons and daughters.’”
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Herzog says: “I don’t deny in any way what I said, how I acted or what I did as a Knesset member, minister, opposition leader or candidate for prime minister. But I am not a soccer referee who suddenly becomes a key striker on one of the teams.”
The current government, which said it was formed to rescue Israel from a protracted government crisis, today finds itself in danger of collapse. How much are you worried by this?
“What concerns me is just one issue, an issue about which there is a consensus – the need for political stability. I don’t care where it comes from.”
Your predecessor, President Reuven Rivlin, undertook the formation of a government that doesn’t identify politically with one side or the other. Do you see yourself assuming a similar role?
Suggested reading for the best understanding of what is and what is not anti-Semitism
If We give up Islamism and Jewish and Christian Sharia in State Affairs, What is Left is Human Rights and Coexistence
As an Israeli American, I agree with Ilhan Omar much more than the US politicians weaponising antisemitism