The Jewish cemetery at Kosice in Slovakia, a country once home to a thriving Jewish community.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli diplomats have seldom had it easy abroad, but the difficulties of those in Europe are mounting as ultra-right-wing political parties are taking on ever greater roles in the politics of their respective nations.
Zvi Gafni, Israel’s ambassador to Slovakia told President Reuven Rivlin on Monday that while Slovakia remembers its past and the Slovakian government does not shirk responsibility for antisemitic atrocities during World War II – instead encouraging Holocaust education and putting up monuments to commemorate its victims – there is also extreme antisemitism in Slovakia.
Gafni said that President Andrej Kiska speaks frequently and in the most positive terms about his visit to Israel last March and his meeting with Rivlin, adding that Bratislava is now waiting for a reciprocal visit by Rivlin.
Gafni was one of scores of diplomats on home leave for the annual conference of Israeli heads of overseas missions, which took place at the President’s Residence on Monday.
In addition to having to cope with a resurgence of antisemitism and terrorist threats, the diplomats are also faced with additional difficulties on the home front.
Budgetary cuts and the recent announcement that several diplomatic missions would be closed down are causing concern. It was not stated which missions would be closed. Rivlin sensing the need to express the nation’s appreciation to its diplomats for their efforts to enhance Israel’s image abroad, said that he was aware of their professionalism and their dedication to Israel’s well-being.
The president had met with many of them, either before they took up their current assignments, when they accompanied visiting presidents and prime ministers to Israel, or when he himself traveled to the countries to which they had been assigned.
He had seen their work close up, he said, and they were all owed a debt of gratitude.
Rivlin is scheduled to travel to Greece on Sunday to address participants in a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Before that, on Thursday, he will address foreign diplomats stationed in Israel at a Yad Vashem conference on the new antisemitism.
Along with the Iranian threat, increased terrorist attacks and developments on the northern and southern borders, the new antisemitism is one of Israel’s major worries.
Rivlin referred to it in his address to the Israeli diplomats, but not before relating to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Referring to Trump as “a true friend of Israel,” Rivlin said that the American president’s predecessor Barack Obama had also been a true friend of Israel but that the two presidents have different approaches.
Rivlin voiced appreciation for America’s bipartisan support of Israel, saying that America has always been at Israel’s side, but never as much as when Trump decided to state the obvious – that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
Rivlin suggested that heads of other countries cease boycotting this fact, because to continue to do so is sheer hypocrisy. Foreign ambassadors all present their credentials in Jerusalem, visiting heads of state address the Knesset in Jerusalem and government-to-government meetings are held in Jerusalem.
All these factors prove that Jerusalem is the capital, he said.
Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rivlin urged that the word “conflict” not be used in relation to this ongoing crisis. “It is not a conflict,” he said, “it is a tragedy. We are struggling with a tragedy for which there is no immediate solution in sight.”
Rivlin also had harsh words for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for saying that the Jewish state had come about through an imperialist conspiracy in response to the Holocaust. “The Holocaust was not the reason,” Rivlin declared. “We returned to the land of our forefathers.”
Rivlin warned that unless something was done to rehabilitate Gaza, there was a danger that out of desperation, the Gazans would attack either Egypt or Israel or both. Gaza is on the verge of collapse, he said. The humanitarian needs are great. There is a scarcity of drinking water and water pollution is getting worse all the time. There’s a general lack of sanitation and unemployment stands at 50%.
Despite all the difficulties with which it has to contend, Israel remains committed to peace, said Rivlin.
The unrest in Syria and Lebanon and Russia’s involvement are among the challenges currently facing Israel, and Iran continues to pose a danger to the free world, he said. “We dare not close our eyes to what Iran is trying to hide.”
In his remarks about terrorism, Rivlin also referred to ISIS, which he said practices terrorism such as the world has never known before – and this places everyone everywhere on constant alert.