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Former President Chaim Herzog: Israel’s founding father of fortitude

36 years ago, current Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s father, then-Israeli president, was given the opportunity to address US Congress

Israeli President Chaim Herzog speaking before US Congress in 1987 (Photo: Screenshot)

In recognition of Israel celebrating its 75th anniversary of statehood, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer extended an invitation to Israeli President Isaac Herzog to address a joint session of Congress. 

Herzog’s July 19 address marked only the second time an Israeli president has been granted the honor. 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks before a joint session of US Congress, July 19, 2023 (Photo: Screenshot)

Thirty-six years ago, President Herzog’s father, then-Israeli President Chaim Herzog, was given the opportunity to address U.S. Congress.

The honor given to Chaim Herzog in 1987, the sixth president of Israel at the time, has been bestowed upon few world leaders. 

In 1987, President “Vivian” Herzog’s visit was recognized as significant by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan due to it taking place during the 40th anniversary of Israel’s statehood. Equally important was Herzog’s historic trip as it marked the first official state visit by a president of the State of Israel to the White House. Herzog noted in an interview prior to his Washington trip that “the importance of my visit, first of all, is that it is happening.” 

At the time of Chaim Herzog’s invitation to the U.S. capital, he was considered one of the most popular and powerful presidents in Israeli history. Herzog had dutifully earned such prestige over a lifetime of service to Israel. Though born in Ireland, Herzog immigrated to British Mandated Palestine in 1935. He then joined the Jewish paramilitary group, Haganah, to help defend Jerusalem during the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt.

With the outbreak of World War II, Herzog, like many of his Jewish brethren, eagerly sought the chance to serve with the Allied Forces in the fight against Nazi Germany and toward the end of 1942, Herzog enlisted with the British Army. 

As a Cambridge University graduate and practicing lawyer, Herzog was commissioned as an intelligence officer. Attached to an armored division, he served in several critical war campaigns across France and Germany. His unit stormed the beaches on D-Day at Normandy in 1944, helped liberate Nazi concentration camps, and assisted in the capture of Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler in 1945, whom Herzog helped interrogate. 

Because of his continued service in the British occupation of post-war Germany, Herzog was unable to return to Mandated Palestine until 1947. Upon his return, he resumed his service in the Haganah until the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in May 1948. 

Herzog was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the IDF and notably took part in the Battles of Latrun in 1948 and the subsequent miracle construction of the “Burma Road” to Jerusalem that same year. For this reason, one of Israel’s newest museums, the "Chaim Herzog Museum of the Jewish Soldier in WWII," was built in Latrun. 

Herzog’s service to Israel also included his work as the IDF Deputy Head of Intelligence, being a military attaché to the U.S. and Canada and serving in field command before his retirement from active duty in 1962. 

During the 1967 Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it was Herzog’s voice on the radio and in print, that gave courage, inspiration and confidence to Israelis and their quest to secure victory. He was a natural choice for appointment to become ambassador to the United Nations in 1975. 

Exactly 12 years before his historic address to the U.S. Congress, Herzog delivered a powerful speech arguing against the UN’s passage of Resolution 3379, which defined Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination. 

As he spoke, Ambassador Chaim Herzog tore a printed copy of the Resolution in a decisive demonstration of his resolve to reject the ratification of the hateful document. Herzog’s historic speech ultimately contributed to the 1991 repeal of Resolution 3379 and has been championed as one of the most important and influential speeches of the twentieth century. 

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog tears a copy of Resolution 3379 during his speech to the General Assembly (Photo: Screenshot)

Incidentally, Chaim Herzog is not the only member of the family to serve as an ambassador to the U.S. In November 2021, Herzog's son Michael, brother of Isaac and an Israeli diplomat and retired military officer, was appointed to the position of Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Maj.-Gen. Chaim Herzog has been hailed as “the connective between the Zionist dream and the daily existence of the average Israeli, the bridge from the past to the future.” 

The endurance of his legacy was well exemplified by his son Isaac’s effective reminder during his July 19 address to Congress, when he spoke of the sacred bond between Israel and the United States. 

His words echoed those of his father’s pronouncement in 1987 that the U.S. and Israel are “bound together in a partnership of such profound significance, a partnership which transcends the normal friendship existing between friendly nations.”  

Though an educator for more than twenty years, following her return to school to earn a master’s degree in military history at Norwich University, Tara Simpson began working as a freelance writer for both the Stars and Stripes newspaper and ABC-CLIO reference publications. Inspired by her grandparents’ service in World War II and beyond, Tara has specialized in research and writing on early twentieth century military history for over a decade. She is now as a Doctoral student at Liberty University with her dissertation research focusing on Israel’s early and modern military history.

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