Despite BDS support, Ireland pays respect to Chaim Herzog
A journalist who bought his childhood home turned it into a museum, Herzog Park was built in his honor in Dublin, and his family received a dignified welcome at the Irish Parliament. To mark the 100th birthday of Israel's sixth president Chaim Herzog, his children went on a journey to Ireland to promote Zionism in a pro-Palestinian country.
Nevertheless, Ireland has shown great respect to Israel's sixth president Chaim Herzog, the son of Ireland's chief rabbi, who later himself became Israel's first chief rabbi.
To mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, an Israeli delegation led by the Herzog family—and in cooperation with the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency—went to Belfast, Dublin and London for a journey in Herzog's footsteps.
Herzog's childhood home becomes memorial site
Herzog's home has been made an official state site in Ireland. The owners of the home, the Gillespies, are journalists who bought the property from the Herzog family and turned the living room and stair room into a museum of sorts. The walls are adorned with Herzog's photographs, old letters, and even a newspaper clip from 1988 of an interview owner Paul Gillespie did with Herzog, even before he bought the apartment from him.
"I even kept the notes I made in my little notebook from that interview as a keepsake," the elderly Gillespie says.
Chaim Herzog—a lawyer, diplomat, rhetorician, politician and author—was born in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, but he grew up and received his education in Dublin. Under the tutelage of his father, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog—who was awarded the Israel Prize in Rabbinical literature—he became a man who believed in dialogue over war.
His children—Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, Brig. Gen. (res.) Mike Herzog and Dr. Ronit Herzog—and their families were very emotional upon arrival in Belfast.
The journey began at the Belfast Parliament building, where the Herzog siblings met with MPs to discuss their father's legacy, as well as the long religious conflict in Ireland and its similarities to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There they also met Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, who noted that "just like everyone has views on what's happening in Northern Ireland, everyone has views on Israel as well."
The small but united Jewish community in Belfast convened at the city's synagogue to pay respect to the Belfast-born man who had left his mark. "We grew up in Belfast through dad's stories," Mike Herzog recalls. "This is our first time here together and it's very emotional. He must be looking down at us from heaven, happy we came here."
Dennis Coppel, the head of the Jewish community in Belfast, praised the ties between Israel and Northern Ireland and the important connection between Chaim Herzog's heritage and family and the Jewish community.
Lord-Lieutenant Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE, representing the Queen in Belfast, praised Chaim Herzog's life and work. She also thanked Chaim's mother, Sara Herzog, for raising him to be the great man he was.
The chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, Paul Charney, was joyful to note that "Zionism is celebrated today, by the fact we're marking Chaim Herzog's birthday and in the way the Jewish community came together today in his honor."
Much was said about the sixth president of Israel. Steven Jaffe, from the Jewish Leadership Council, lamented the loss of a truly unique politicians, while Mark Regev, Israel's Ambassador to Britain, said it was "a great pride to celebrate a man who was born here, in Belfast. A man whose heritage is a source of inspiration. He had a personal influence on me."
Eli Cohen, the director-general of the World Zionist Organization, noted that "Herzog made a significant contribution to building the State of Israel."
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When Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog became the rabbi of the Jewish community in Dublin, the family moved to the Irish capital.
The first stop the delegation made in the city was the school Chaim Herzog attended. During an emotional ceremony, they told the students about Herzog, concluding the event with Hebrew poetry about the Land of Israel.
Nearby is Herzog Park, at the center of which there is a rock bearing Chaim Herzog's name. It symbolizes stability, strength and courage.
"Since one of the main goals of the World Zionist Organization is to create Aliyah and encourage Zionism, we viewed this project as one of the organizations' biggest missions—taking a Zionist figure from a small community, who turned into a military man and a president and whose family is a dynasty of Zionist leaders," and honoring him, said WZO head Yitzhak Sonnenschein.
Later, Irish President Michael Higgins, who is known for his pro-Palestinian positions, opened his door to the delegation, despite the political disagreements.
"I didn't expect this," admits Isaac Herzog. "I couldn't imagine this would be the respect given to my father in Ireland, mainly because of the murky relationship, the hostility and the incessant (condemnations) on the diplomatic arena. It was very special, and proper from a historical point of view."
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also hosted the Israeli delegation at his home. He spoke about Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Chaim Herzog and Abba Eban—also a relative of the Herzog family—as men with giant careers in different fields, saying it was impossible not to admire them.
In their conversation with Higgins and Coveney, Chaim Herzog's sons Isaac and Mike stressed the importance of opposing legislation from the Irish Parliament that could promote the BDS Movement.
"It's clear to me we'll rather quickly return to arguments and condemnations and to concerns over hostile legislations, but at least they listened," Isaac Herzog said afterwards.
At the end of the journey, the delegation arrived at Spencer House in London, where Lord Jacob Rothschild organized an event in Chaim Herzog's honor. Among the invitees was also former British premier Tony Blair, who told Ynet that "Chaim Herzog is one of the iconic statesmen of the 20th century. He was a great man, a great intellectual, a great leader. I think of how proud he would be if he could see Israel today."
The writer accompanied the delegation at the invitation of the World Zionist Organization.