Israel’s self-proclaimed “best friend,” Czech President Milos Zeman, gave a “message of solidarity with Israel and the Jewish People” in his speech to the Knesset on Monday.
“Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said the Czech Republic is Israel’s best friend in Europe. I wonder, why only Europe?” Zeman quipped in English. “Anyway, I am the best friend of Israel in my whole country.”
Zeman cited historic Czech support for Israel and the Jewish People, and called the European Parliament’s “support for Palestinian terrorists” shameful.
“If we betray Israel, we betray ourselves,” he said, to applause from MKs.
Zeman expressed hope that Tuesday’s planned dedication of a Czech House – dealing with Czech-Israel tourism, trade and other areas – will lead to the moving of the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem.
“I am no dictator, unfortunately, but I promise I will do my best,” he added.
Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s addresses to the Knesset mentioned the history of Czech Jewry, as well as Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomasz Masaryk, who opposed antisemitism and supported Zionism, and is the namesake of a town in northern Israel.
The leaders also thanked the Czech people for their support for Israel’s Independence, including supplying military weapons and providing training for fledgling Israeli pilots.
“The Czech Republic and Israel are small but great democracies,” Netanyahu said, “Israel raises the torch of freedom. You also sought freedom.”
The Munich Agreement, where Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Nazis in the name of appeasement, relayed to Israel “we must defend ourselves, by ourselves,” Netanyahu said. “The attempt to get us to give up the mountains of Judea and Samaria, the heart of our homeland, will leave our state with no defenses.”
The Joint List boycotted Zeman’s speech in light of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his comments earlier on Monday which questioned the necessity of a two-state solution.
Zeman remarked that when he met with President Reuven Rivlin, said he was intrigued by Rivlin’s idea of one state for two nations but discounted Gaza as a state saying “Hamas is a terrorist organization not a state.”
Rivlin welcomed Czech President Milos Zeman to Jerusalem on Monday, calling him “a friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel” and thanking him for the Czech Republic’s growing friendship and cooperation.
“In the current situation our friendship is more important than ever” he noted.
The Czech President also invited Rivlin, who has previously visited the Czech Republic, to visit again and to consider it his second home just as Zeman “regards Israel as his second home.”
In addition, the two leaders discussed regional and European issues, with Rivlin impressing on his guest that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. “It cannot be a Jewish state without being democratic,” he said, “and it cannot be democratic without being Jewish.”
Rivlin emphasized that Israelis and Palestinians have to find a way to live together and to create a future together. “The Palestinians are not only our neighbors but our cousins,” the president said.
The visit was the Czech president’s third visit to Israel and his second as president.
Ministers traveling with Zeman expressed unanimous enthusiasm to Israel, saying that it is an amazing country. The Speaker of the Czech Parliament who is in Israel for the first time, was emotional when on the way to the hotel, he saw Czech flags waving in the street.
Rodica Radian-Gordon, the head of the Israel-Europe Division at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was hopeful that an agreement for a government meeting could be signed in early 2019, and reiterated that the Czech Republic “is one of our greatest friends in Europe.” She said that Israel appreciates the voice of the Czech Republic at the EU “and all the many times you have stood beside us.”
During the current visit, a water management agreement related to cooperation on issues of waste is expected to be signed by the environmental ministers of both countries.
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