Israel “never forgets its friends,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, upon welcoming him to his office at the start of a three day visit to the country.
“We know that Albania is a good friend of Israel. We’re celebrating now 25 years of our relations,” Netanyahu said. “We know that the people of Albania are not merely good friends today of the people of Israel, but in the crucial period of the Holocaust they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish people persecuted in Europe.”
Netanyahu pointed out that Albania was the only country in Europe where the Jewish population after World War II was greater than it was before the war.
“I think Albania is the only country whose Jewish population during the Holocaust actually grew because of the refuge and the sanctuary and the friendship and courage shown by the people of Albania,” he said. An estimated 200 Jews lived in the country before the war, a figure that swelled some ten times to more than 2,000 afterward, many of them Jews who fled to the country from other European lands.
“We never forget our friends, and we appreciate that display of humanity, civility and courage in our darkest hours,” the premier added.
Rama, during his comments, said that Albania is “proud to have been a country where no Jew was released to the Nazis, and where there are incredible stories of Muslim families who protected Jewish families.”
Netanyahu said that Israel’s relations with Albania – a country of just less than three million people, 60 percent of whom are Muslim – are strong and cover a broad spectrum, including trade ties, investment, energy and water.
The ties, Netanyahu said, also cover security issues, which he said preoccupies countries everywhere.
“Today there is a looming terrorism that threatens all of us,” Netanyahu said. “Israel fights terrorism day in, day out. Israel never lets down its guard. But I think increasingly countries today understand that the problems of international security are intertwined. Terrorism threatens everyone. It is international and the response to it should be international.”
The two leaders signed a joint declaration of friendship, a medical research cooperation agreement and an agreement on the employment of spouses of diplomats.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that during the meeting between the two men, Rama said Albania was interested in bilateral cooperation with Israel in the fields of security, cyber, water, energy and innovation. In addition, Rama was keen on encouraging Israeli investment in his country.
Netanyahu thanked Albania for support over the summer in voting down a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting that would have forced Israel to open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors. Albania was one of 61 countries that voted for Israel and against the resolution, which was defeated 61-43. Albania also voted for Israel on a similar resolution the year before.
In the UN, Albania traditionally abstains on Israel-related votes.
One recent exception, however, was the country’s vote in September in favor of flying a Palestinian flag at the UN.