Isaac Herzog Elected as Israel's New President by Knesset

Veteran politician Isaac Herzog was elected as Israel's eleventh president.

Herzog, the former head of the Labor Party and an opposition leader who unsuccessfully ran against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 parliamentary elections, was selected by secret ballots among the 120 members of the Knesset, or parliament.

He defeated outsider Miriam Peretz, who is more aligned with Israel's conservative and nationalist groups.

"I intend to be the president of everyone," Herzog said, as reported the Associated Press. "We must defend Israel's international status and its good reputation in the family of nations, fight antisemitism and hatred of Israel, and preserve the pillars of our democracy. "

The president is a largely ceremonial role representing unity and morality. According to the AP, the president is tasked with tapping a political party leader to form governing coalitions after parliamentary elections.

Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement with president-elect Isaac Herzog after a special session of the Knesset whereby Israeli lawmakers elected a new president, in Jerusalem June 2, 2021. Israel's parliament elected the even-keeled Labor veteran Isaac Herzog as its 11th president, a vote that came as opposition lawmakers scrambled to forge a coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu. RONEN ZVULUN/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Herzog will succeed Reuven Rivlin, who leaves office next month at the end of a seven-year term.

Herzog comes from a prominent Zionist family. His father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel's ambassador to the United Nations before being elected president. His uncle, Abba Eban, was Israel's first foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations and United States. His grandfather was the country's first chief rabbi.

Herzog has served as head of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit that works closely with the government to promote immigration to Israel, for the past three years since resigning from parliament. He was widely seen as the favorite because of his deep ties to the political establishment. He will hold office for a single seven-year term starting July 9.

Netanyahu's opponents faced a midnight deadline Wednesday to put together a new coalition government. If they fail, the country could be plunged into another election campaign.

The president also has the power to grant pardons — creating a potentially sensitive situation as Netanyahu stands trial for a series of corruption charges.

"The title of 'first citizen' and the task of guarding the character of the state of Israel, particularly at this point in time, are heavy responsibilities," Rivlin said in a statement congratulating his successor. "I have no doubt that you will bear them superbly."

Peretz immigrated from Morocco as a child and has worked as a teacher, educator and lecturer on Judaism, Zionism and grief. Two of her sons died serving in the Israeli military. In 2018 she was awarded the Israel Prize, the country's top award, for lifetime achievement.

She would have been the first woman and the first settler to hold the office.
She and her family lived in one of Israel's settlements in the Sinai Peninsula until a peace treaty was struck with Egypt in 1979 and the territory was returned. Peretz then moved to the settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank just north of Jerusalem.

Most of the world considers Israel's West Bank settlements illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, who seek the territory as part of a future state.

Isaac Herzog Elected Israel President
In this Monday, March 27, 2017, file photo, Isaac Herzog speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. The Israeli parliament on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, is set to choose the country's next president, a largely figurehead position that is meant to serve as the nation's moral compass and promote unity. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo