President Reuven Rivlin on Monday received the credentials of five ambassadors from Uruguay, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, El Salvador and Albania.
For Uruguay’s Nestor Alejandro Rosa Navarro this is a second stint in Israel. He previously served as his embassy’s first secretary until 2002, and has a 16-year-old daughter who is a sabra.
In welcoming Rosa, Rivlin said: “We remember who voted for us in the United Nations in 1947 and before that in San Remo in April, 1920.”
On May 19,1948, five days after Israel gained independence, Uruguay was the first Latin American country to recognize the new state.
Rosa said that Uruguay had always been in favor of the Balfour Declaration and a state for the Jewish people and had also supported this concept at the San Francisco conference in 1945.
Rosa, who previously served in Washington as Uruguay’s Deputy Representative to the Organization of American States, said he and his family were very pleased to be back in Israel, which had been his first overseas posting.
Rosa brought greetings from President Tabare Vázquez who was a student in Israel’s Mashav program, and visited afterwards as mayor of Montevideo and yet again as president.
Alexander Petrovich Shein, Russia’s ambassador, came wearing the special green and gold embossed dark uniform reserved for ambassadors of the Russian Federation.
He and Rivlin exchanged condolences.
Rivlin conveyed Israel’s sympathies to relatives of the Russians killed in the recent plane crash in Sinai, and Shein sent a message of sympathy to all the Israeli victims of violence and their families.
Rivlin commended Shein’s knowledge of the Middle East, alluding to how Shein had previously served as ambassador to Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia and had also seen service in the Russian embassies in Algeria and Syria.
Shein said President Vladimir Putin regards Israel as a very important partner in the Middle East and that Russia wants to cultivate relations with Israel in all areas and is interested in deepening political dialogue, especially with regard to regional security.
Next year Russia and Israel mark the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations, Shein also said. Ties had ruptured after the 1967 Six-Day War. Rivlin said he hoped Putin would visit Israel on that occasion.
“So do we ,” responded Shein.
Though in Israel for only three weeks, Barbara Susnik, Slovenia’s ambassador, addressed Rivlin in Hebrew at the start of their conversation, but switched to English, apologizing, “I’m not there yet.”
Susnik expressed condolences on the passing of Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon at the weekend, and spoke about the extent to which the Jewish community of Slovenia had suffered during the Holocaust, along with Europe.
Where Slovenia can contribute to world peace, she said, is in the field of human rights, particularly because it is so conscious of what happened in Europe.
She said that following the presentation ceremony she intended to go to Yad Vashem because she believed that it was the right thing to do at the beginning of her service in Israel.
Susnik added that when she heard the IDF band play Slovenia’s national anthem, she focused on its lyrics which are about peace among neighbors.
Ambassador Werner Romero of El Salvador who has a distinguished diplomatic career, made a point of introducing Rivlin to his husband Roger Atwood, a journalist who writes for Archaeology Magazine and spent many years working for Reuters.
According to Atwood, he and Romero were the only publicly gay couple on the diplomatic circuit when they came to London in 2009.
Here in Israel they are the third gay couple, and the second to be part of the current diplomatic corps. They were preceded by British ambassador David Quarrey and his husband Aldo Oliver Henriquez, who met Rivlin in August.
Atwood said they were very happy about Israel’s liberal attitude towards gays, because other countries in the region were not so accepting.
Rivlin said Romero would have to keep coming to Jerusalem for meetings at the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset, and that it was a pity that he had to travel so far in both directions considering how close everything was when the embassy was in Jerusalem.
El Salvador was once one of two countries that housed their embassies in Jerusalem, but moved its local diplomatic headquarters in 2006 to Tel Aviv region.
Romero said he and Atwood were charmed by Jerusalem because there was something magical about it, and that he would probably spend more time there than in Tel Aviv.
He also said El Salvador joined Israel in mourning the death of Navon “who was a good friend to the people of Latin America.”
Rivlin impressed on both Latin American envoys that Israel is interested not in peace treaties, but in peace, and that he was concerned about anti-Israeli propaganda circulating throughout South America.
Romero told him that El Salvador which had been embroiled in a war for 12 years, had taken almost two decades to reach an agreement.
“We do understand Israel’s point of view,” he said. “Reconciliation can be very painful.”
Romero also pledged to do everything in his power to have Israel admitted to SICA, the Central American Integration System which stands for regional peace, political freedom, democracy and economic cooperation and development.
Dr. Bardhyl Canaj, the ambassador of Albania, has switched sides with the full approval of both countries.
He had spent 10 years as director of the economic department in the Israeli Embassy and was also Israel’s Honorary Consul to Albania. Now he is serving as Albania’s ambassador to Israel.
Rivlin cited Albania as a country which had proven that there is no war between Islam and Judaism.
During the Holocaust, Albanians, who are mostly Muslims, had risked their lives to save Jews, including Jews who had fled from other countries. Yad Vashem has so far recognized 73 Albanian Muslims as Righteous among the Nations. Albania was the only country in Europe in which there were more Jews after the war than before.
Canaj said a waiter at an Israeli cafe had asked him and his wife on Sunday whether they were from Italy. Not Italy, they told him, but not too far away – Albania. The waiter’s eyes instantly lit up, Canaj said.
“Albania,” the waiter told him.
“That’s where my grandmother was saved from the Nazis.”
Next year Albania will celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations with Israel.