W hen it comes to political yichus, Yitzhak Herzog has few peers. His father, Chaim, served Israel as president, UN ambassador, IDF general and head of army intelligence. Yitzhak’s uncle was Abba Eban, an eloquent defender of Israel as the country’s UN ambassador and foreign minister.

Talk to Yitzhak Herzog, and he will tell you the yichus he is proudest of is the man he was named after — his grandfather and Israel’s first chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, of blessed memory.

He relates this as we sit in the sprawling lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in Monaco, where I was on assignment three weeks ago at a convention of the Conference of European Rabbis. Herzog’s grandfather stepped into his position at an equally tumultuous time, at the dawn of Israel’s statehood, when the roots of much of today’s political and religious discord were first planted.

“My father wrote about my grandfather in his memoirs that toward the end of his life, the extremism in Jewish life pained him a lot,” Herzog says. “In addition to being a great sage, and a righteous man, my grandfather was also a centrist, a moderate. He said we need to hear and talk and find solutions.”

Israel’s public discourse today is strident, and feuds between different Jewish groups over prayer at the Kosel, conversion to Judaism, and the peace process have widened the already existing gaps. Herzog, a Knesset member since 2003, once served as minister of diaspora affairs, and wraps himself in his grandfather’s mantle, calling for ongoing dialogue. “It happens in America in forums like AIPAC and the federations. All the groups meet and talk. And there’s much more that overlaps than doesn’t overlap,” he says.

Herzog gained firsthand knowledge of the US, living in New York for three years and attending yeshivah at the Ramaz School when his father was UN ambassador.

Afterward, he earned a degree in law at Tel Aviv University, practicing in his family-founded commercial law firm of Herzog, Fox and Neeman in Tel Aviv.

He has held numerous cabinet posts during his 14 years in the Knesset, including the portfolios of tourism, construction and housing, and welfare and social services. In 2014, when the Labor Party allied with Tzippy Livni’s Hatenuah (Movement) party to create a joint electoral list called the Zionist Union in the hopes of unseating Prime Minister Netanyahu, the new grouping voted Herzog as its leader.

Despite winning 24 seats in the March 2015 election, the party ousted him as its leader in its July 2017 primary, in favor of the more gregarious and charismatic Avi Gabbay.

Herzog’s critics fault him for his low-key style and inability to mold the opposition into an effective parliamentary force. Considering that 13 opposition members come from Arab parties, and another 11 from Yesh Atid, led by iconoclast Yair Lapid, unifying such a diverse bunch would have been mission impossible for almost any opposition leader.

On stage or on camera, Herzog will not wow a crowd, but he is extremely personable one-on-one. Herzog attends synagogue on Shabbos and has never uttered a disparaging word against the chareidim or religion during his long political career. In that regard, he has earned the mutual respect of chareidi MKs, even as the chareidim show their disdain for his party’s platform that calls for major changes to the longstanding status quo on issues of religion and state.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our 20-minute interview. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 689)