Of the 143 ambassadors to the United Nations, the most embattled surely is Israel’s Chaim Herzog. Seventy countries regularly vote against Israel on almost any issue, and more than half of their diplomats personally snub Herzog in the delegate lounges. Two weeks ago an Arab-inspired resolution condemning Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination” was approved in the General Assembly, 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), and Herzog lost his diplomatic cool. In an angry speech from the rostrum, he denounced the resolution as anti-Semitic, then, in a disdainful gesture, ripped a copy of it in half.
“By and large, I am very careful,” says the Belfast-born Herzog. “But I can be impulsive. You’ve got to remember there’s a bit of Irish in me.” To a group of visiting congressmen, Herzog explained: “My feeling at that moment was that for thousands of years we’ve been pushed around and we won’t stand for it any more. To hell with you.” In Western capitals, the loneliest man in the U.N. became something of a hero.
He has long been a hero back home in Israel. At 56, Chaim Herzog has been a captain of industry, the head of Israel’s most prestigious law firm, a best-selling author and the country’s leading military and political commentator. His broadcasts during the 1967 Six-Day War were “must” listening. “Every woman fell in love with him,” an Israeli housewife recalls. “He held our hand when we weren’t sure what would happen.”
The ambassador’s ramrod posture, impeccable tailoring and bristly moustache give him the look of a military man, and he was that too. The son of the grand rabbi of Ireland and later of Israel, he spent his childhood in Dublin and moved to Palestine at 13. (His mother, who lives in Jerusalem, is a politician and a grande dame of Israeli intellectual society.) In World War II, Herzog was trained at Sandhurst, Britain’s military academy, served in Normandy and Germany and retired as a lieutenant colonel. After the war he got his law degree at the University of London. He was twice head of Israel’s military intelligence, and after the 1967 war he was the first governor of the captured West Bank of the Jordan territory. In 1970 he was dubbed a Knight of the British Empire (“The Queen liked me,” he explains).
He affects a hard, some would say arrogant, outer shell, but Herzog is a warm and devoted family man. His wife, Aura, headed the Council for the Beautification of Israel, and Herzog calls her “the Lady Bird of our country.” Living in New York since August, the family goes to museums and the opera frequently. Herzog keeps fit by playing squash at least twice a week and sailing whenever he has the opportunity.
The ambassador speaks flawless English, French, German and Hebrew and understands Spanish and Italian. He is tough. “The Arab function is to get us out of the U.N.,” he says, “and I don’t feel compelled to collaborate with them.” He adds: “The U.N. is a battlefield and I am not prepared to retreat from it.” But it is not combativeness that enables Herzog to survive the daily storm centers at the U.N. “It would be difficult to maintain my equilibrium as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations,” he says gravely, “without a highly developed sense of humor.”