- Written by Jonathan Danilowitz
In the early hours of the morning of the 17th January 1945, Raoul Wallenberg disappeared. He had been a consular official at the Swedish Legation in Budapest, Hungary. He was never heard from again.
Raoul Wallenberg was not Jewish. He worked at the Swedish Diplomatic Mission in Budapest with one purpose in mind; to save as many Jews as possible from the Nazi death machine. He not only issued thousands of visas a “safe passes”, but empowered by his diplomatic immunity, he worked relentlessly in the face of the Nazis as they tried to deport Hungarian Jews to the death camps.
I was honored to be invited yesterday – the 17th January – to a ceremony at the official residence of the Swedish Ambassador to Israel, H.E. Carl Magnus Nesser, to honor the late hero. The central event was the screening of a short documentary film: “The Survivors in Budapest: Interviews with Persons Saved by Raoul Wallenberg”. Four Israelis, all former Hungarians, who survived and lived to tell the tale. The interviews were bone-chilling as they recounted what they as children has seen, heard, felt and experienced – and how the brave Wallenberg saved them – and thousands more. The four were in the audience with us. Living flesh and blood, now mothers and fathers, grandparents, great-grandparents – survivors.
Ambassador Nesser addressed the gathering, first in faultless Hebrew (!) which he has learned in his four years in Israel, and then in English. Also addressing the gathering was Danny Rainer, head of the Israeli representation of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
The Ambassador and the Embassy of Sweden in Tel Aviv are to be commended for arranging this event. The memory of Raoul Wallenberg will live on. May it be for a blessing for us all.
Photo credit: Eva Taylor.
- Written by President’s Spokesperson
President Reuven Rivlin this morning (Tuesday), welcomed the leaders of Christian communities in Israel for the traditional annual reception to mark the civil New Year. The event was held in cooperation with the Minister of Interior and was attended by Interior Minister Aryeh (Makhlouf) Deri. Representatives of the Christian communites included, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian.
President Rivlin began by wishing all the Christian leaders and their congregations, “A good and healthy New Year,” and added, “May it be a year of mutual understanding and respect. A year of justice and fairness.”
President Rivlin noted that “Looking back on the last year, there is a lot we should be proud of. We have continued to build good relations between the Jewish and Christian communities,” and said that “we may have different faiths, but we share many common values. We share a deep respect for mankind, created in God’s image. We share a commitment to love our neighbor. We share a hope for peace. And in this city, we all, the children of Abraham live together, side by side”.
“I see my role, and the role of the State of Israel, as guardians of this city. As guardians, our sovereignty over Jerusalem will never compromise the freedom of worship and religion for all believers,” the President said. He reiterated, “United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and it will remain.There is no international body with the power to revoke this. And as sovereigns of the city, I stand here today to repeat in the clearest way: the State of Israel is deeply committed to ensure the religious rights of all faith communities in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.”
The President stressed, “Israel is committed to finding a way to end the tragedy between us and the Palestinians. Time and again, we have held out our hand in peace, and called for direct negotiations, without pre-conditions, and without any delay. The decision to take Israel to the UN Security Council, was wrong in trying to force pre-conditions, but also in the way it was done. The international community’s, most important job in helping us solve the conflict, is to build trust between the sides. How can we hope, as the Pope said, “to write a new page" in the history of Israel and the Palestinians, without this trust?” He said firmly, “The Security Council vote, was a blow to peace, and it was a blow to trust.”
Turning to the situation in the wider region, the President said, “Bloodshed in the name of politics and religion, have led to much misery, pain, and loss; for many many people.Cities of great history and civilization, Aleppo, Mosul, are today by-words for sorrow and destruction. In these times, silence is not an option. I believe the international community - the whole free world –must act to help the innocent, the civilians, men, women, and the children. We must work to help those who have stayed, and those who are refugees. And we must stand up and support the countries who do so much to help the wave after wave of refugees who arrive at their gates. While we have never been able to reach peace with Syria, we see the pictures and hear the voices of the people suffering, and as Israelis of all faiths, we feel the duty to try to help, and to speak out. I am proud of the humanitarian aid and medical help many Israelis are giving to the people of Syria.I know sadly, that is ‘a drop in the ocean’. But, dear friends, silence, and doing nothing cannot be an option. We must speak, we must act, we must pray.”
Minister Deri said, “Our ability to celebrate the festivals side by side, reminds us of the great extent to which we share common histories and future. The destruction of faiths has occurred in this land, and the State of Israel is the only, and the only secure state in this region where the Christian population lives and grows – not decreasing but increasing – all the while in other counties there is mass immigration and expulsion of the Christian community. Here the Christian community stands at 120,000 and its proportion to the general population continues to flourish. The Government of Israel, and my office which is responsible for religious affairs, has been and remains committed to the strengthening and prosperity of the Christian community in Israel. We are doing all in our to allow freedom of religion and worship to each according to their faith and outlook in their holy places. We are preserving and conserving the holy places as much as we are able. Last night I declared the launch of the strategic plan to strengthen the northern region, together with the Finance Minister, and in the presence of the Prime Minister. This is the region where 70% of the Christian community in Israel lives, and will directly benefit together with the other residents of the region from this initiative. The project funded by more than 20billion NIS will see investment transport infrastructure, and in the fields of health and education. In addition, in recent years, with the support of the President who pushed for the economic plan for the Arab regional authorities – where the Christian community also live – we have transferred 350million NIS in 2015-16, and in the framework of development grants we are transferring 800million NIS.”
Speaking on behalf of the Christian leaders, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem said, “We take this opportunity of this holiday gatherings to express our gratitude for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy, especially the freedom of worship. We are always encouraged by your commitment to the sacredness of life and your condemnation of all forms of terrorism. These fundamental commitments are the basis of any society that understands that we share a common human destiny. The State of Israel takes pride in the fact that this state was founded on democratic principles in the Middle East, and that it guarantees full freedom of worship. We are confident Mr. President that you will continue to resist any restrictions of religious practices.”
He concluded, “We are keenly aware this season of the unspeakable experiences of those who suffer around the world, and especially those who suffer in the countries around us. So many are suffering for the mere fact of their religious allegiance, and as those who serve the moral values of our respective religious traditions we are deeply concerned.”
Photo credit: Mark Neiman (GPO)
- Written by President’s Spokesperson
President Reuven Rivlin this morning (Monday) at his residence received the diplomatic credentials of new ambassadors to Israel from France, Canada, Guatemala, Turkey, and Cambodia. Each ceremony began with the raising of the flag and the playing of the national anthem of the visiting country, included an honor guard, and - after the presentation of the credentials - the signing of the guest book, before the playing of Israel's national anthem 'Hatikva'.
Photo : President Rivlin welcoming H.E Mrs. Hélène Le Gal, Ambassador of France to Israel.
President Rivlin first welcomed Ambassador of France, H.E Mrs. Hélène Le Gal. He welcomed her and spoke of the good relations between the two countries and stated that he was hopeful that as she took up her post these ties would grow stronger and cooperation would increase. The President added, “We know of the goodwill of the President of France to bring to an end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only way to bring about an understanding with our neighbors is to through direct negotiations. We welcome any initiative to end the tragedy between Israel and the Palestinians, but the Palestinians reject our offer for direct negotiations time and again – we have no war with Islam, but they must accept we are here to stay in our homeland.”
The Ambassador thanked the President for his warm welcome, and noted that as this was her second posting to Israel, having served in Israel 20 years ago, she had a sense of returning home. She said, “France was of course very active in the first 20 years of the state to help build the military capacity here, and this is still one of the main domains of our relationship if we think about counter terrorism, and we have a lot to discuss on this matter.” She added, “We are a permanent member of the Security Council and we are always keen to propose things, to try and find ideas for the different conflicts of the world. It is always in a very good spirit towards Israel. I would like to say that France and Israel share many values especially democracy, and freedom of speech and I appreciate your messages on these subjects.”
Photo : President Rivlin welcoming H.E Ms. Deborah Lyons , Ambassador of Canada to Israel.
The President then received the credentials of new Ambassador of Canada, H.E Ms. Deborah Lyons. He welcomed her and said, “Next year you will celebrate 150 years and I congratulate all Canada on this.” He added, “Canada’s friendship is of great importance to us, it is a true friendship. Also when you may have criticisms we hear they are out of love – between true friends.”
Ambassador Lyons said that, “The reception I have received from all the Government and people of Israel has been fantastic. I have been here for two and a half months, and we have had the prime minister, who of course came for a sad occasion, and then the visit of the Governor General who came with a large business delegation. I don’t see it slowing down in the new year and we are looking forward to a very busy time, as it should be between us as close friends. We are natural friends, natural colleagues, but there is much more we can do together. We are looking forward to you being able to visit Canada.” She noted that Canadians could learn much from Israel and said, “We have a new expression in the embassy from the more than 350 Canadians we have hosted in Israel since I arrived, and that is ‘Wow Israel!’”
Photo : President Rivlin welcoming H.E Ms., Ambassador of Guatemala to Israel.
The President then received the credentials of the Ambassador of Guatemala H.E. Ms. Sara Angelina Solis Castañeda. The President stressed the importance of the recent visit by President Morales of Guatemala to Israel, as a milestone in the relationship between the two countries. He said, “The visit of your President was significant and important, and strengthened the good ties between our countries – ties which are warm and friendly. I welcome you to your new post, and wish you much success in the role.”
The Ambassador thanked the President for his words and said, “It is a high honor to be here and a privilege to represent Guatemala to Israel - a country we love so much. It was a great honor to have President Morales visit at the beginning of my term.” She noted that in addition to strengthening the bilateral cooperation in the fields of agriculture, technology and health, “I am talking to some of the universities in Israel, and want to help Israelis understand about the history of the civilization in Guatemala, and the history of the Mayan people who lived there thousands of years ago.”
Photo : President Rivlin welcoming H.E Mr. Mekin Mustafa Kemal Okem , Ambassador of Turkia to Israel and family.
The President then received the diplomatic credentials of the new Ambassador of Turkey to Israel, H.E. Mr. Mekin Mustafa Kemal Okem, the first Turkish Ambassador to Israel for more than six years.
President Rivlin began by saying, "I want to start, by expressing my deep condolences to the Turkish people, to the victims of the terror attack in Istanbul, and to the families who have lost their loved ones. Mr. Ambassador, all life is sacred. Terror is terror is terror -whether in Brussels or Paris, Istanbul, Jerusalem, or Cairo. We have a duty to stand together against this terrible threat. "
He continued, "Mr. Ambassador, today is an honor, and a real moment in history. I want to express my appreciation for President Erdogan, and I thank him again for Turkey’s help in fighting the fires across Israel last month. Our friendship goes back in history, and I hope that the reconciliation and the appointment of new ambassadors will open a new and promising page in this relationship. We must work together to promote our economic relations, trade and energy cooperation, as a real engine of growth for our friendship."
The President stressed, "Mr. Ambassador, as you know the Middle East is changing. We must find the way to give strength to the voices of peace and stability. We must strengthen our common ground. When I spoke to President Erdogan, we spoke about the situation in Gaza. I want to thank him for his commitment to help return the Israelis and the bodies of our soldiers held by Hamas. Israel like Turkey places great importance in rebuilding the lives of the civilians in Gaza; in infrastructure, economy, energy, water, and more. This must be with the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority. It is also an important way to show that we can live together in this region."
He concluded, "Israel and Turkey share a desire for peace and prosperity for all the peoples of the Middle East, and it is an honor and privilege to welcome you, as Ambassador of Turkey, here in Israel, welcome."
Ambassador Okem thanked the President and said, "I have just had the honour to present my credentials to the President of the State of Israel, His Excellency Reuven Rivlin. It is an honour for me to officially begin my tenure as Turkish Ambassador to the State of Israel as of today, and I would like to thank you for the warm welcome shown to me and my family.
He added, "Indeed, Mr. President this is a new beginning in our bilateral relations and in our joint efforts, in this region in which we have close ties, historical ties. Our region has more than its share of challenges but also of big opportunities. As before, Turkey and Israel will work together to make sure that these opportunities are fully utilized and challenges are met."
He concluded, "As per instructions of my president, His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and my Prime Minister, His Excellency Binali Yıldırım, I will explore all opportunities for cooperation in every field to the mutual benefit of our two nations. And, as an ambassador, I will do my best to enhance our relations in every field - regardless of any difficulties that we may face, we will be able to overcome together with our partners and friends Israel. So I am looking forward to closely working with all of the institutions in this country and do my best to cooperate with them. As you have just said Mr President, our hope is that this cooperation will also work for the benefit of other nations, particularly to the Palestinian Authority as well."
During their meeting, President Rivlin once again reaffirmed his wish to convey Israel's hope that the renewal in relations between Israel and Turkey would lead to the freeing of the Israeli citizens held captive in Gaza, and to the return of the bodies of the fallen Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin being held by Hamas, so they could be brought for proper burial in Israel.
Photo : President Rivlin welcoming H.E Mr. Sman Manan, Ambassador of Cambodia to Israel.
Finally, the President received the new Ambassador of Cambodia, H.E Mr. Sman Manan. The President welcomed him and said, “Only recently your Agriculture Ministry was here and there is much we can do and learn from each other in the fields of water and agriculture. I know that there are more than 300 people this year alone from Cambodia learning in Israel. This number will grow and it is important for strengthening the ties between our people. Working together in medicine, we have brought a lot of hope to people in Cambodia, and our cooperation is for the mutual benefit of both our peoples.”
The Ambassador thanked the President and said, “I want to thank the State of Israel for their help in medicine and agriculture, and also for the Israeli volunteers who have come to Cambodia.” He noted that, “Seventy percent of Cambodia is agricultural land, but we don't have the technology. As ambassador I am going to work on this and promoting tourism and investment, and will try to promote our cooperation for the benefit of both peoples.”
Photo Mark Neumann / GPO
- Written by Steven Aiello
On Sunday night, the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv came alive with the sounds of Africa. Sunday evening ushered in Jamhuri (Republic) Day—Kenya’s national day celebrating independence. Diplomats, academics, humanitarians, business leaders and Kenyan expatriates enjoyed a lovely and lively evening of food, music and dance which exemplified the uniqueness of Kenya and its relationship with Israel.
The evening opened with the national anthems of Kenya and Israel performed by the dynamic team of Gilad Millo and Wendy Kimani. H.E. Mr. Jon Chessoni, Charge d'Affairs of the Republic of Kenya welcomed all of the guests. Mr. Chessoni spoke about the long-standing and staunch ties linking the two nations of Kenya and Israel. In 1963, just three days before Kenya formally declared its independence, legendary Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir visited the country to lay the cornerstone for the first Israeli Embassy in Nairobi. Israel and Kenya have enjoyed a strong relationship ever since.
Mr. Chessoni discussed Kenya’s important roleas one of the largest and most robust economies in Africa, as well as the East African country’s contributions to regional-level peace and stability. Mr. Chessoni became the acting ambassador in Israel when the previous ambassador left for Juba, South Sudan, to oversee efforts to reconcile differences in the difficult civil war facing that country. Kenya has also contributed to the AMISOM African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia, as well as anti-piracy efforts in East Africa.
Mr. Chessoni also mentioned Kenya’s efforts to promote international trade and development, including a number of recent conferences and meetings, many of which have involved Israeli cooperation. Mr. Chessoni applauded the strong ties at the governmental and people levels, and encouraged more Israelis to visit “Magical Kenya.”
MK Ayoub Kara, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation, reinforced the message of Israeli-Kenyan partnership, specifically citing recent visits by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Kenya in July 2016 and by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Roto to Israel several months prior to that. Additionally, Mr. Kara noted, Israel and Kenya opened an important bilateral dialogue in Jerusalem in January 2016, with plans to hold a follow-up session in Nairobi in early 2017.
Mr. Kara discussed common challenges and opportunities for the two nations. He mentioned the threat of extremism and radicalization that challenged stability in the Middle East and East Africa—citing specifically Al-Shabab in Kenya’s case, and Hamas, Hezbollah and Da’esh in Israel’s case. On a more positive note,
Mr. Kara emphasized Israeli-Kenyan cooperation in initiatives like the MASHAV program, an international development program ranging from irrigation techniques to food security to education, with Kenya sending the highest number of participants to participate in MASHAV training programs in Israel. In closing, Mr. Kara offered his hope that ties between Israel and Kenya continue to blossom.
Following the speeches, guests were treated to a special performance by the eponymous group Gilad and Wendy. Gilad Millo is a the son of an Israeli ambassador, and a former diplomat himself, whose passion for music and travel has drawn him to Kenya over the years. Wendy Kimani is a Kenyan music star. The two were joined on stage by the Groove Ambassadors, an international band featuring influences from all over the world. Within minutes, the room had come alive, and guests were dancing to a combination of English and Swahili.
In an exclusive interview with Diplomacy, Furaha, Mr. Chessoni’s daughter, discussed her experiences as a young Kenyan woman living in Israel. The Chessonis have been based in Israel for less than a year, and although the absence of the ambassador has placed additional obligations on Mr. Chessoni, the family loves living in Israel. Furaha studies Communications at the IDC Herzliya, while her younger siblings attend an international high school in Israel. Furaha Chessoni described her appreciation for the diversity of Israel and the way in which Israeli society incorporates religion and modernity, given that religion is a central part of life for so many (Kenya itself is home to numerous religious groups, and as Mr. Chessoni pointed out, had a synagogue in Nairobi as early as 1912). She drew a parallel to Kenya’s own diversity, citing the more than 40 languages spoken by various tribes throughout Kenya. Furaha reiterated her father’s call for Israelis to come visit Kenya, telling Diplomacy that Kenya’s rich cultural and geographical landscape made it an ideal tourist destination spot.
The guest list at the Jamhuri celebration was similarly diverse, including not just diplomats and business leaders, but also musicians, academics and humanitarians. Israeli music superstar Idan Raichel attended with his wife Damaris, as did Ambassador Gil Haskel, former Ambasador to Kenya and current head of MASHAV, and Ambassador Emeritus Shlomo Avital, who served as a diplomat all over Africa, Professor Isaac Dagani (a researcher of African Studies and Islam at Bar Ilan University), Director of Rotary International Gideon Peiper, and numerous military attaches and political liasons. Dr. Rina Attias, who also attended the event, told Diplomacy about her work in Kenya for the Save a Child’s Heart initiative, which brings children from all over the world to Israel for life-saving heart surgery by top surgeons.
Israel and Kenya have enjoyed a vibrant relationship ever since Kenyan independence and are positioned to continue with many exciting collaborations already in progress. It was only fitting, then that the Jamhuri celebration in Tel Aviv would commemorate this robust link with a gala, event featuring such energy, diversity and camaraderie.
Steven Aiello is the Director of the Debate for Peace MUN program
Photo Silvia Golan
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- Written by Buzzy Gordon