Amid coronavirus, ambassadors present credentials to Rivlin

Normally, there is a military honor guard of around 40 soldiers from different units. This time there were eight.

President Reuven Rivlin is seen accepting the credentials of Romanian Ambassador to Israel Radu Ioanid. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin is seen accepting the credentials of Romanian Ambassador to Israel Radu Ioanid.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
More than half a century of diplomatic protocol, which has known only minor changes over the years, primarily in response to inclement weather, underwent a COVID-19 overhaul on Wednesday, when five ambassadors presented credentials to President Reuven Rivlin.
Normally, there is a military honor guard of around 40 soldiers from different units. This time there were eight. There was also a significant reduction in the police band.
The regular military honor guard stands on the paving stone path leading to the main reception hall. The reduced honor guard stood at the side of the pergola, with each holding a large pennant to convey a sense of ceremony. Behind them, curtained off by bushes, the police band, which is usually fully visible, played the national anthems of each of the ambassadors’ countries, plus “Hatikvah.”
Inside the hall, lounge chairs were placed in adherence to the social distancing requirements, with two rows on either side, separated by far more than 2 meters of floor space.
In the pre-coronavirus era, Rivlin, together with Foreign Ministry officials and members of his senior staff, waited in the reception hall for the pomp and ceremony entrance of each ambassador. This time, the ambassadors entered first, and stood waiting by their chairs for the president to enter.
The wait was sometimes embarrassing, because the envoys did not really know what to do. Under the traditional system, the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben would stand at the ambassador’s side and whisper guidelines, but this time he was forced to stand behind the ambassadors at the correct social distance. Fortunately, Reuben has a thespian voice which he can project very well without a microphone, so when the time came for the individual introductions of Colombia’s Margarita Eliana Manjarrez Herrera, Greece’s Panayotis Sarris, Denmark’s Anne Dorte Riggelsen, Romania’s Radu Ioanid and Argentina’s Sergio Daniel Urribarri, Reuben had to boom the introductions from the edge of the stained-glass wall of the building.
Manjarrez, a lawyer by training, is a career diplomat, the first woman sent by her country as an ambassador to Israel in 63 years of bilateral diplomatic relations.
“I wish I could shake your hand, but I am forbidden,” Rivlin, alluding to Health Ministry regulations, told her. He said that he had spoken to Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez in April and they had discussed the importance of collaborating in the fight against global terrorism.
Aware that many of Rivlin’s travel plans had been put on hold due to the pandemic, Manjarrez told him that whenever he would come to Latin America, he would always be welcome in Colombia. Rivlin responded that he would be happy to welcome Duque to Jerusalem, because he sees him as “a real friend of Israel.”
In greeting Sarris, Rivlin noted that relations between Israel and Greece go as far back as 2,500 years. “Our two peoples are among the most ancient in the world,” he said.
Rivlin voiced the hope that travel between the two countries could resume in August so as to boost the tourist industries of both Mediterranean nations. He also spoke of the gas pipeline in which Israel and Greece are heavily involved.
Sarris said that his predecessors had told him that Israel was the best posting in their lives. From his own experience, he added, Israel feels just like home.
He emphasized that even though Greek governments over the past decade or so had changed from radical Left to Center-Right, these political changes did not change Greece’s positive attitude to Israel, which he observed is rare, because changes in government did affect foreign policy with regard to other countries.
Recalling the visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis just over three weeks ago, Rivlin said he is looking forward to welcoming Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who is her country’s first woman president.
Rivlin asked Riggelsen to convey his best wishes to Queen Margrethe, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, and recalled a wonderful conversation with her about Hans Christian Andersen when he and his late wife, Nechama, visited Denmark. It was the most interesting discussion about literature in which he had ever participated, he said.
Riggelsen described the visit as proactive and said that she wants to build on it, as well as on the history of the rescue of Danish Jews during the Holocaust, and why that rescue operation was so successful.
Rivlin was particularly happy, after a three-year hiatus without a Romanian ambassador, to meet Ioanid, who is not a career diplomat but a historian, who worked for 30 years in various senior roles at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and more recently served as an adviser to President Klaus Iohannis, who, during his visit to Israel in January, had invited Rivlin to visit Romania. Rivlin had readily agreed, and was all set to go when Israel went into lockdown, halting the president’s travel plans. He assured Ioanid that as soon as he will able to travel, he will make Romania his No. 1 destination. He found it interesting that just as Ioanid went from being a presidential adviser to becoming an ambassador to Israel, one of his own former advisers, David Saranga, is currently Israel’s ambassador to Romania.
Ioanid said that when offered an ambassadorship, the only country to which he agreed to go was Israel.
Relating to a subject dear to his heart, he said that Romania is building a Jewish history and Holocaust museum.
Rivlin found a soul mate in Urribarri, who like Rivlin is a keen soccer fan. Rivlin waxed nostalgic about how he’d seen Argentina’s star soccer player Diego Maradona in a game in Mexico in the 1970s, and said that he would be delighted to host a match between Argentina and Brazil in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis is also a soccer aficionado, and during their respective meetings with him, Rivlin and Urribarri had discussed soccer. This is Urribarri’s first diplomatic posting. He was previously the governor of the Entre Rios province.