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Biography of Chaim Herzog

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Biography of Chaim Herzog

Chaim Herzog (Hebrew: חיים הרצוג‎) (September 17, 1918 – April 17, 1997) was the sixth president of Israel.  He was born in North Belfast in Northern Ireland, to Yitzhak Halevi  and Sarah Herzog. Yitzhak Halevi Herzog was Chief Rabbi of Ireland and later Chief Rabbi of Palestine and of Israel. The Herzogs moved to Dublin shortly after Chaim was born, and he grew up there, studying at Wesley College, Dublin. 

Herzog immigrated to Israel in 1935 at age 17 to study at a yeshiva and to begin studying law. He studied in the Merkaz Harav Kook and Hebron Yeshivot, at the same time studying law in the Evelyn de Rothschild school.  During this period he became active in the Haganah during the  Arab Revolt in Palestine.

In 1938, Chaim Herzog traveled to England to complete his studies in London and Cambridge. He graduated from Cambridge in 1942. While at Cambridge he joined the officer training course. and went to Sandhurst Military Academy in preparation for enlistment in the army. He graduated from the Sandhurst officers course in 1943 with the rank of Second Lieutenant and was attached as intelligence officer  in infantry and armored corps. He took part in the landing at Normandy, fighting in occupied Europe as an intelligence officer. He was with the first allied forces that crossed the Rhine into Nazi Germany. Chaim Herzog was among the liberators of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He was in the supervisory command responsible for the surrender and demobilization of the German army. He was part of the intelligence apparatus responsible for finding and dealing with Nazi leadership, and took part in the interrogation of Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the S.S. At the end of the war, he was among those who organized the intelligence system in the British-occupied sector of Germany. Chaim Herzog served as chief of military intelligence in northern Germany.

Herzog was demobilized from the British army in 1947, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He went to Palestine and became active in the Haganah, serving as chief of intelligence for the Jewish Agency and liaison with the British. In 1947 he also married Aura Ambache.

Chaim Herzog served as  Operations and Intelligence officer of the 7th Armored Division in the War of Independence and participating in the battle of Latrun to open the road to Jerusalem. In July 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion called on  Herzog to help in establishing the Division of Military Intelligence, first as the deputy to Isser Be’eri and later as the Chief Intelligence Officer. In this position, Chaim Herzog built and led the establishment of IDF Military intelligence. In July 1949, he became head of the Secret Services Commission.

Between 1950 and 1954 Chaim Herzog served as Military Attache in Washington. Upon his return to Israel, he served  as Commander of the Jerusalem brigade until 1957, and then was head of the Southern Command until 1958. Subsequently, he served again as Head of the IDF Intelligence (AMAN)  until 1962, when he retired from the IDF with the rank of Major General, to pursue a business and public career. Chaim Herzog served as a military commentator in the tense days before the Six day war and during the Yom Kippur War. Following the Six Day War he served as military governor of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

From 1975 to 1978, Chaim Herzog served as Israel's Ambassador to the UN. During the debate on the infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379) Herzog tore up the resolution and gave an address explaining that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

 In In 1981 he was elected to the Knesset as a member for the Labor Alignment Party. In 1983, he was elected President of Israel, and served two terms. During his term as president he worked for national unity. As president, Herzog traveled widely. With his impeccable English and cosmopolitan manner, he contributed immensely to enhancing Israel's standing abroad. In official and state visits to over thirty countries. Herzog's travels included the first visits by an Israeli head of state to Germany and China, a visit of reconciliation to Spain marking 500 years since the expulsion of the Jews, and a tour of the Pacific. Herzog addressed fifteen parliaments, made countless public appearances, spoke to the media and held private meetings with foreign leaders. He challenged unfair criticism from the media and foreign governments, encouraged closer diplomatic relations and promoted trade relations.

In the Zionist sphere, Herzog emphasized the centrality of Israel to Diaspora Jews. He advocated a strong Zionist connection between Israel and Jewish communities around the world, and was a strong proponent of Jewish education. While he was President, the Israeli political system was stalemated, with election results see-sawing indecisively between Labor and Likud government. He  often acted as arbitrator and helped in the formation of unity governments in 1984 and 1988..

Herzog was an active President, pushing the envelope of the powers of the supposedly figurehead office. Emphasizing that he was the President of "all Israelis," Herzog visited the Arab and Druze minorities as well as Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. He called for limitations to be imposed on the freedom of extremist political groups, but he also pardoned settler extremists.

Chaim Herzog resigned from the Presidency in May 1993. He went on speaking tours, engaged in journalistic commentary, was board member of several firms, and wrote his autobiography, Living History: A Memoir, published in 1996. He helped develop the Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva which is now named after him.  Chaim Herzog died on April 17th, 1997.

The Herzogs had four children. Yoel, Michael, Yitzhak ("Bougie" Herzog - currently Minister for Social Affairs for the Labor Party), and Ronit, and numerous grandchildren.

In addition to his autobiography, Chaim Herzog was he author of several books:

  • War of Atonement: The Inside Story of the Yom Kippur War (1975)
  • Who Stands Accused? : Israel Answers Its Critics (1978)
  • The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East (1982)
  • Heroes of Israel: Profiles of Jewish Courage (1989).
  • Battles of the Bible (1978), co-authored with military historian Mordechai Gichon.
  • Living History: A Memoir (1996).

Several educational institutions are dedicated to his memory. Yad Chaim Herzog was established by his family to perpetuate his memory and legacy. 

Ami Isseroff

See also: Presidents of Israel

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies   General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

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