An interview with Michael Herzog, Israel’s incoming ambassador to the U.S.
'The tent is a big one and we have to talk to everyone inside the tent,' Herzog told JI
Danny Kitri/Jewish People Policy Institute
Acknowledging the fraying ties between Israel and some segments of American Jewry, Michael Herzog, Israel’s incoming ambassador to the U.S., has offered an outstretched hand.
In his first interview since being approved for the position by the Israeli government earlier this month, Herzog, a retired brigadier general, longtime scholar and diplomatic envoy, told Jewish Insider, “I would like Jews in America to feel that when we talk about Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people that they are, in one way or another, stakeholders.”
“I think what needs to be done is to foster a dialogue with as many Jewish groups as possible — the tent is a big one and we have to talk to everyone inside the tent,” Herzog continued. “I want to bring a message of dialogue and building bridges.”
Herzog, the grandson of Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevy Herzog, the son of Israel’s sixth President Chaim Herzog and older brother of Israel’s current President Isaac Herzog, will need every bit of his pedigree as he takes up Israel’s most important diplomatic posting at a perilous time in the relationship between Israel and the U.S., and Israelis and American Jews.
“My background is relevant in more ways than one,” Herzog told JI. “I grew up in a family where my grandfather was chief rabbi, my father president — elements of Jewish destiny and solidarity were a fundamental part of my education.”
It is these fundamentals that have guided Herzog, 69, through a 40-year career in the Israeli military, serving as head of strategic planning, and later as a chief of staff and military secretary to four former defense ministers. For 25 years, Herzog also actively participated in back-channel peace negotiations with Israel’s neighbors, including the Palestinians, and from 2009 to 2014 was an official peace envoy.
More recently, Herzog has spent the past decade at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Jewish People Policy Institute, researching and writing extensively about nearly every issue that he will now be tackling in Washington.
“Mike Herzog is an inspired choice to be ambassador to the United States,” former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, co-chairman of JPPI’s board of directors, said recently at a farewell event in Jerusalem, also broadcast on Zoom, for Herzog at the institute.
Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former senior White House official in the George W. Bush administration, told JI that Herzog was “arriving at a challenging time for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“He needs to rebuild relations with the Democrats, who are increasingly split on Israel; broaden the support for Israel within a divided Jewish community; and try to figure out a way to keep the U.S. and Israel on the same page when it comes to thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” said Troy. “And, like every Israeli ambassador to the U.S., he needs to think about what he wants as his long-term legacy from a typically short-term tenure.”
“It is a great honor to do this job, I do not take it lightly,” Herzog, who is waiting for accreditation from the Biden administration before moving to Washington sometime next month, remarked. “I am preparing for this job very seriously and since there are some open and very pressing issues, I will have to hit the ground running.”
Herzog is succeeding Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan — who will maintain his position as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations — and says he plans to follow up on subjects raised during Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent visit to Washington.
First and foremost, Iran. “We are at a junction where there will or won’t be a [nuclear] deal and there will be a dialogue and specific strategies, so that will be a main issue for me to deal with vis-a-vis the administration.”
Herzog also said he would also focus on “the need for broad bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S.,” as well as countering the “international campaign to delegitimize Israel, which is also prevalent in the U.S.”
At the JPPI farewell event, former U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Stuart Eizenstat, also the institute’s co-chair, urged Herzog to welcome legitimate criticism of Israel but make clear that supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that targets the Jewish state crosses the line. He suggested Herzog conduct early outreach to progressive legislators in Congress and listen and engage with them.
“My message is going to be really showing Israel’s diversity,” Herzog told JI. “We are a very diverse, open society and certainly far away from the stereotypes [associated with Israel], and we need to make that very clear.”