Five new ambassadors present Peres credentials

Ambassadors from Poland, Portugal, Estonia, Kazakhstan and Iceland present credentials to president.

Peres 370 (Marc) (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Peres 370 (Marc)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The strains of Poland’s national anthem “Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela” (Poland Is Not Yet Lost) rang out several times across the capital’s Rehavia and Talbiya neighborhoods Thursday in preparation for the arrival of Poland’s new Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, the first of five envoys who presented their credentials to President Shimon Peres throughout the morning.
The other ambassadors were Miguel de Almeida e Soussa from Portugal, Malle Talvet- Mustonen from Estonia, Bolat Nurgaliyev from Kazakhstan and Benedikt Asgeirsson from Iceland.
In welcoming Chodorowicz, Peres said he could not receive a Polish ambassador without thinking of the Jews’ 1,000- year history in Poland, including that of his own family.
Although the relationship between Jews and Poles had its ups and downs, he said, by and large Jews were able to survive, practice their religion and preserve their language and culture up until the time of the Nazi invasion.
“Under the Nazis, we were victims, you were victims, and now we are both rebuilding for our future,” he said.
The president added that he was greatly impressed with the progress Poland had made, and with what President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk had done to overcome the economic crisis.
Chodorowicz brought greetings from Komorowski, saying that the Polish president looked forward to visiting Israel, but that a date had yet to be finalized.
Responding to Peres’s comments on the Poles’ shared history with the Jews, the ambassador said that the hoped-for opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which was planned in tandem with the April 2013 commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’s 70th anniversary, would probably be delayed by a few months. The museum, on the site of the razed Warsaw Ghetto, has been in the planning and construction stages for more than a decade, with a slew of announced opening dates missed for at least the last three years. Chodorowicz excused the delay, which is due to an added feature – the revival of Jewish culture in Poland after 1989.
He said that Poland was looking for more cooperation with Israel in technology, industry and research, where it is already cooperating but not to the optimal extent. Peres reminded him that there was also strong cooperation in the domain of security.
Although Portugal has not done as well as Poland in overcoming the economic crisis, Peres told Sousa that from what he could see, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
“We know the problems you are confronting as a small country facing the global economic crisis. To face this crisis calls for heroic efforts, and I know that Portugal is trying to do so,” he said.
He referred to the debate going on in Europe about choosing between austerity and investment, and observed that Portugal was trying both.
The president noted that relations between Israel and Portugal had recently improved, “but we could do more in terms of scientific cooperation,” he said. “We can also enrich political relations and work together to escape poverty and to take advantage of opportunities.”
With regard to improving the political relationship between the two countries, Peres said he would like to see more exchange visits, in particular a visit by President Cavaco Silva.
Portugal’s president very much wants to come to Israel, said Sousa, but Portugal is going through harsh reforms, and he is needed at the helm.
Sousa was hopeful that Silva would be able to visit Israel next year.
There is a lot of Portuguese interest in Israel, but not much knowledge, he said, adding that this was the case in Israel as well regarding Portugal. The first task that he has set for himself is to enhance knowledge on both sides. Better knowledge, he said, “will help us to face the challenges of the global world in our efforts to achieve peace and security.
What happens in Israel is also our concern, and we will always be available to promote dialogue.”
Accompanying Estonia’s Mustonen to the credentials ceremony was her husband Andres, a leading European conductor, violinist and researcher of musical cultures.
He has appeared in Israel several times, most recently last year, and has excellent contacts among the country’s musicians and musicologists.
Peres told the ambassador that she was coming to a friendly country, to which she replied, “I feel it with every step. I’ve felt a very warm welcome.”
She said she was impressed by the Israelis’ vibrant energy.
Declaring that Estonia, like Israel, had excellent scientists, Peres said he was confident that the two countries “can cooperate and coordinate on research of the brain.” He also felt there was room for improvement in economic and cultural relations.
Estonia opened an Embassy in Tel Aviv in November 2009, and in 2007, a synagogue officially opened in its capital, Tallinn, for the first time in 63 years. Mustonen recalled that Peres had attended the opening.
In December 2008, Tallinn also boasted a Jewish Museum.
Peres expressed his respect and esteem for Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, going so far as to describe him as the most important leader in Asia. He praised the Kazakhstan leader’s initiative in inaugurating the Congress of Leaders of World Religion – the fourth of which will open later this month – and credited him with creating harmony by bringing together representatives of countries that would not ordinarily meet under the one roof, along with representatives of both state and religion. Peres recalled the impact that the congress had made on him when he had participated in it.
Nurgaliyev said he was looking forward to increased multilateral and multidirectional cooperation with Israel. Underscoring that this was the 20th year of Kazakhstan’s independence, he said that for a young state, the challenges at the beginning had been enormous, and that the advice Peres had given Nazarbayev had been greatly appreciated.
From the very beginning, said the ambassador, Kazakhstan had chosen a policy of peaceful cooperation with countries east and west, pursuing a path of harmony through interreligious and inter-ethnic dialogue, and renounced the nuclear arsenal that it had received from the Soviet Union.
“We are trying to play a constructive role in international and inter-regional institutions,” he said.
Asgeirsson, who was visiting Israel for the first time, works out of his country’s foreign ministry in Rejkjavik. When he met Peres, he had already managed to tour Jerusalem, and said he was looking forward to touring Tel Aviv and the North before returning to Iceland.
When Peres inquired about Iceland’s economy, the ambassador said it was improving and that 2.5 percent growth was predicted for this year. However, he added that unemployment was close to 7%, which was much higher than it used to be.
Though Peres pointed out that this unemployment level was lower than that of any country in Europe, Asgeirsson said that all things being relative, it was still a lot for Iceland, where the unemployment rate had previously fluctuated between 1% and 2%.
Relations between Israel and Iceland are somewhat chilly, and Peres told Asgeirsson that the two countries should see “how to warm them up” and to raise the level both politically and economically.
Peres was in Iceland during the premiership of David Oddsson, who hosted a lunch for him and told him in his speech, “You are the chosen people, and we are the frozen people.”