JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Former Labour party head Isaac Herzog was sworn in as Israel’s president on Wednesday and pledged to use the largely ceremonial role to try to heal deep divisions within Israeli society.
In a pomp-filled ceremony in the Knesset (parliament), Herzog embraced outgoing president Reuven Rivlin before taking the oath of office to applause from lawmakers, beginning a seven-year term.
“From here, I will go to Israel’s presidential residence and begin a journey between the rifts and chasms of Israeli society. A journey that aims to find the unifier within the differences, the unifier between the rifts, a journey designed to rediscover us,” Herzog, 60, said.
First elected to parliament in 2003, Herzog led the left-wing Labour party and held several portfolios in coalition governments. His most recent public post was as head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages immigration.
Defeated by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu in a 2015 election, Herzog was elected president by parliament in June just days before Netanyahu was toppled by a cross-partisan alliance led by new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The Bennett-led government’s swearing-in followed four elections in two years that exposed deep political, religious and ethnic divides in Israeli society.
Fighting in May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza also touched off rare mob violence among the Jewish majority and Arab minority within Israeli cities.
“I embark on this path in order to meet the pain, to look at it directly, to lend an ear and a heart – to difficulties and fears, even at the most eruptive points,” Herzog said.
A lawyer, Herzog is a son of the late Israeli president Chaim Herzog, who also served as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Concluding his speech, Herzog vowed to fight anti-Semitism, strive for peace between Israel and its neighbours and help in the “fight against Israel’s strategic threats, chiefly Iran’s nuclear programme”.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Nick Macfie)