Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recently announced that Michael Herzog – brother of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and son of late President Chaim Herzog – would become the Jewish state’s new ambassador to the United States.
Being the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Israel’s closest ally, is widely considered the most important position in Israeli diplomacy.
Who is Israel’s new man in Washington and what does Herzog’s appointment mean for the American-Israeli alliance?
Professionally, he is a retired brigadier-general from the Israel Defense Forces and is currently an International Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. Over the years, Herzog has served as a senior advisor to five different Israeli defense ministers including Ehud Barak and the incumbent Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
In addition to his impressive defense and security background, Herzog will lead the Israeli embassy in Washington with extensive diplomatic experience. He has played a key role in the Arab-Israeli peace process since 1993 and is also well connected and respected in Washington.
However, perhaps Herzog’s most critical asset is the fact that he is not ideologically linked to a particular political party. While Israel’s former top envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, was a highly effective ambassador, he was ideologically close to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli political right’s embrace of the U.S Republican party.
This worked well during the Trump administration, but created considerable political tension during the Obama era. Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan who served briefly as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., also hails from Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party.
Following years of strained relations between U.S. Democrats and the Netanyahu administration, Bennett has vowed to restore bipartisan U.S. support for Israel. With President Joe Biden in the White House and the Democrats back in the corridors of power in Washington, Herzog’s political neutrality and professionalism is crucial for the Bennett administration’s vision to rebuild the pre-Netanyahu era bipartisan support.
Some conservative voices in Israel have criticized Herzog’s appointment as serving “the left,” but the fact remains that Herzog does not carry any particular ideological luggage. In addition, Herzog appears to enjoy bipartisan support in Jerusalem from both right-wing Bennett and liberal centrist Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
It remains to be seen whether Bennett and Lapid will succeed in restoring the coveted American bipartisan support for the Jewish state. While Netanyahu’s strong embrace of the Republican party certainly did not help, parts of the Democrat party has in recent years become increasingly radicalized and hostile toward Israel’s very existence.
It is highly unlikely that Herzog’s appointment will soften the hostility of progressive liberals like U.S. representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
However, as Israel’s new man in Washington, Herzog is well positioned and capable of building bridges to mainstream Republicans and Democrats alike. In addition, Herzog’s extensive military and security experience could become invaluable for the Israeli government’s effort to widen the daylight between Jerusalem’s greatest ally America and its greatest foe, the Iranian ayatollah regime.
From right-wing to left-wing Jewish-American groups, Herzog's nomination has garnered widespread praise.
Hadar Susskind, president of the liberal Americans for Peace Now, said Herzog has the "skills, the experience, the character and the temperament to successfully represent Israel in the United States, and to serve its new government’s objective of deescalating Israel’s hawkish posture in Washington."
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, praised Herzog as well saying he "brings real smarts and a strategic mind to the work."
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.