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Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko will send a representative to Israel next week to clear the air following angry reactions to what was perceived as an anti-Semitic tirade he made last week, Belarus Ambassador to Israel Igor Leshchenya told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
According to Leshchenya, Pavel Yakoubovitch, the editor of the Belarus Today newspaper, will hold meetings with Foreign Ministry officials and the press. Yakoubovitch, who is Jewish, is considered close to the president.
Lukashenko sparked a diplomatic row with Israel two weeks ago when he addressed the shoddy conditions of the town of Bobruisk during a live press conference and said: "Well, obviously, it is a Jewish town. The Jews do not care for the place they live in, look at Israel, I have been there." The town was reorganized after the Jews left, he added, and called for Jews "with money" to return there.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni blasted the comments, saying, "The role of leadership is to fight anti-Semitism, wherever it raises its ugly head all over the world, not to encourage it. Anti-Semitism is primarily an indicator of the society in which it appears and of its leaders."
Sergei Rychenko, the press secretary at the Belarus Embassy in Tel Aviv, said parts of Lukashenko's comments were mistranslated.
Leshchenya, who served as an assistant to Lukashenko for four years before becoming an ambassador, first to Egypt and then to Israel, said the president had a "kind attitude toward the Jewish people."
In closed meetings with Lukashenko over the years, Leshchenya said, he never heard him utter an anti-Semitic sentiment.
"He used to say that we need to be as clever as Jews are to build a prosperous state," the ambassador said.
Leshchenya said he understood Israeli sensitivity to any politician using the word "Jew."
"On the one hand there are words, and on the other hand there are actions which [bear] witness [to] the true and kind attitude toward Jews in Belarus," he said.
Leshchenya said he hoped the visit of the president's envoy would "open up a new stage" in the relations between the two countries. He declined to say whether he thought Livni had overreacted to Lukashenko's comments, but did say two senior Belarus officials were in the country last week, indicating that relations between the two countries were not at a crisis level.
Leshchenya met Wednesday at the Foreign Ministry with Pini Avivi, the ministry's new deputy director-general for Central Europe and Eurasia. They discussed Yakoubovitch's visit at the meeting, which was scheduled before Lukashenko's remarks. Avivi said Israel would receive the president's envoy and his message.