Tuesday 17 September 2013

Another Herzog heard from

Apart from coming between Hungary and Jamaica  in an alphabetic list of countries, Ireland and Israel have certain historical parallels.  Both are recent additions to the list; both were/are partitioned; both were mid-wifed into existence by bombs and kidnappings and neither left that sort of thing behind after they got their seat at the UN.  Ireland, a generation older, seems to be emerging from that cycle of reciprocal atrocity.

As you know, I'm rather a fan of Werner Herzog the film director.  I'm also rather a fan of another Herzog, no relation, one-time President of Israel, who makes a nice connexion between the two countries. Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast and grew up in Dublin, going to Wesley College, despite the fact that he was Jewish rather than Methodist.  It would have been hard to conceal this fact as his Da was the Chief Rabbi of the Irish Free State, as well as being a fully engaged Gaelgoir republican.

Young Chaim left home at 17 and emigrated to Palestine where he joined Haganah one of the militant organisations that was campaigning for a Jewish homeland. They'd be called terrorists now, and possibly were back then. I had a good friend when I was a teenager whose father had been kidnapped in 1947 by the Irgun, another paramilitary organisation like Herzog's group Haganah.  He was released within a short while, having spent his time in captivity discussing the merits of Bach and Mozart with his captors.  But don't imagine that the transition from Palestine to Israel was a gentlemanly affair.  Just read the Bunche Report or Google up Folke Bernadotte.

But this is getting ahead of myself.  Herzog joined the British army at the beginning of  WWII and served in Tanks all over Europe, helping to liberate some concentration camps as that conflict came to an end.  With that experience and training, he was an Effective in the war that broke out in 1948 immediately after the foundation of Israel, and eventually became a general in the IDF.  But after a decade of fighting he trained as a lawyer in Britain and qualified as a barrister, and then practiced the law for several years.  After that he went into politics and was the Israeli ambassador to the UN where his anti-anti-zionism speech is accounted by some as one of ten speeches that have changed the world.  In due course he was elected to the Presidency by a narrow margin in 1983, but returned for second term 5 years later.  It's what you might call an adventurous life for a young chap who played rugger in Dublin as a teenager to finish up, not Captain of School but President of a country.

Chaim Herzog was born on 17th September 1918.

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