President Rivlin to the British Ambassador:
"Let me assure you - there will be no Isra-exit from our bilateral relations.
Holocaust and anti-Semitism education are not only important for the Jewish community in Britain, but for everyone and all communities, and appreciate the work your government is doing in this field."
President Rivlin to the Irish Ambassador:
"Israel and Ireland are both strong democracies, but even when we disagree, as we sometimes do, we cannot accept boycotts as a valid response."
Ambassadors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Equatorial Guinea and Bulgaria presented their credentials today, Wednesday 7 August / 6 Av, to President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin at an official ceremony at Beit HaNasi as they take up their posts in Israel. As each ambassador arrived, their national anthem was played by the IDF Band, their national flag was raised and they reviewed an honor guard of IDF soldiers. After presenting their letters of credence to the president and an audience with him, they signed the visitors’ book and Hatikva was played.
The first to present their credentials to the president was Ambassador Dusko Kovacevic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who did so in Hebrew. He then shook hands with the president and asked if he had pronounced everything correctly. The president replied with a smile, “you said it perfectly, and within a week, you’ll speak the language fluently.” The president welcomed the ambassador to Israel and said, “your country is an example that it is possible to bridge conflicts and to seek peace. I believe that we can deepen the relations in a range of fields and hope that with you here as ambassador, we will do so.”
The ambassador expressed his condolences to the president on the death of Nechama ז"ל and said he was proud to serve his country in Israel. He added that the cooperation between the two countries in the fields of security and economy were very important and expressed his hope that the relations would extend to additional fields. “Let me express my sincere gratitude for the assistance that Israel immediately sent in 2014 when we experienced massive floods. You were among the first countries to send assistance and we will never forget it,” said the ambassador, who ended his remarks by saying in Hebrew, “toda raba - thank you very much - Mr. President.”
The president requested the ambassador’s help in returning the Sarajevo Haggada to Israel. The Haggada, the story of the Exodus from Egypt read on the Pesach festival, was apparently written and illustrated in Spain in the 14th Century, and over the years found its way to the Sarajevo Museum. During the Holocaust and the civil war that followed it, the book was hidden by the museum’s librarians in a mosque and other places. “The Haggada is dear to our hearts and we would deeply appreciate it if we could return it to the Jewish people.”
Next the ambassador of Equatorial Guinea, Luciano Ncogo Ndong Ayecaba, presented his credentials to the president. He will be his country’s first resident ambassador in Israel, and the president said, “I have no doubt that this will help strengthen the relations between our countries. It is an exceptional opportunity and I hope that you and your family will feel at home here.” The president also mentioned that he hoped Israel would resume its observer status at the African Union. The ambassador thanked the president for his warm reception on behalf of himself and his family. “As a Catholic, I am deeply moved to be here. We are two small countries and we have much in common. I am sure that we will be able to do a great deal together,” he said.
The next to present his credentials was Ambassador Neil Wigan of the United Kingdom, accompanied by his wife Yael and two children. Ambassador Wigan presented his credentials in fluent Hebrew, saying “It is a great honor and a deep personal pleasure to be here again, Mr. President, and to present you with my letters of credence as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Israel.” The president, with a smile on his face, said that he was sure that his wife and children would feel at home, shook hands with the children warmly and said that he was delighted they had come back.
The president welcomed the ambassador and quoted the famous Liverpool FC song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. “Our relations are strong and strategic, including in the field of counter-terrorism, and that is how they will remain, said the president. “We see you as very good friends and let me assure you there will be no Isra-exit from our bilateral relations. Please send my warmest congratulations to Prime Minister Johnson, my dear friend, and of course to Her Majesty the Queen.” The president stressed the importance of fighting anti-Semitism together, saying “we see Holocaust and anti-Semitism education not only as important for the Jewish community in Britain, but for everyone and all communities, and appreciate the work your government is doing in this field.”
The president recalled the visit of Prince William to Israel warmly as someone who does much to bring people around the world together and spoke about the Land of the Monasteries project that Israel is leading in the Jordan valley. “This area is so important to Christians and is significant to the whole region as a place where working together could bring millions of pilgrims and create prosperity and economic growth. I invite you, together with representatives of the Royal Family and the Pope, to come to the opening of the project when the restoration work is completed.”
The British Ambassador told the president how excited he was to return to Israel, where he met his wife Yael on his first posting here in 2002. “It is a great honor and a huge personal pleasure to come back here as ambassador. The Royal Family feels a strong connection to Israel, particularly Prince Philip. The relations between our two countries are close, the prime minister volunteered on a kibbutz, and there is no doubt that this says something about the quality of our relations. After Brexit, we very much want to deepen and extend the relations even further. Israel has a great deal to offer those who visit, and as a historian, the Land of the Monasteries project interests me very much. On the question of anti-Semitism, our government is committed to working with the Jewish community to ensure that they are able to live their lives safely. We see Israel as a friend and even when there are disagreements, that friendship is very important to us.”
The president extended an invitation to a British representative to participate in the ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau that will take place at Yad Vashem in January 2020. “Britain played a crucial role in the Second World War,” said the president and the ambassador replied, “my grandfather was the commander of the forces that liberated Bergen-Belsen and the issue is important to me personally.” At the end of his remarks, the president said, “I wish you all success and I am sure you will feel at home here.”
Ambassador Rumiana Bachvarova of Bulgaria was the next to present her credentials to the president, who said, “I remember my visit to Bulgaria in 2016 very well, during which we unveiled the memorial to the rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. The links between the Bulgarian people and Israel are good and warm and I am sure that through government-to-government relations we will be able to strengthen the links in a range of areas.”
The ambassador thanked the president for his remarks and noted the importance her government attaches to the relations between the peoples, the governments and the business sectors. “It would be a great honor for me in my new position to realize the great potential of our relations,” she said.
The final ambassador to present his credentials was Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan of Ireland. The president welcomed the new ambassador and said, “Israel and Ireland are both strong democracies, but even when we disagree, as we sometimes do, we cannot accept boycotts as a valid response. Our bilateral relations are important and we have a wide range of links, not only at the governmental level but also between the peoples. The fifth president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, was born in Ireland and his son is now the Chair of the Jewish Agency.” The president added, “we are making efforts to rebuild confidence between Israel and the Palestinians but we are only one side of the equation. The Palestinians must also understand that they need to make an effort. It would be helpful if you tell them that they must also be part of such efforts. Thank you for the Irish contribution to UNIFIL who play an important role in keeping the peace on our northern border. With a smile at the end of his remarks, the president said “We are known more for our wine than our beer, and I hope you will enjoy our Israeli wine. Welcome to Israel, and I hope you feel at home.” The president spoke to the ambassador’s wife and said, “we may be a little loud, but I hear that Irish people also know how to make a noise when necessary.” Laughing, the ambassador’s wife said, “I have three sons…”
The Irish ambassador thanked the president for his remarks, saying “I listened very carefully to what you said and I agree on many issues. We appreciate the importance you attach to defending democracy and its values, and Israel’s democracy is indeed famous – vibrant and lively. This is something we share. You face many challenges, and we are aware of that. I am glad to see that we can listen to each other and discuss matters, even if we do not always agree. Of course, on the question of the quality of Irish beer, we are in absolute agreement,” he said with a smile, thanking the president for his warm reception.
Photo credit: Mark Neiman (GPO)