President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal returned home on Monday from a visit to the Czech Republic and were welcomed by staff to a different residence than they had departed from on Sunday.
During their brief absence, their employees, under the supervision of the Director-General of the President’s Residence Eyal Shviki, began preparations for US President Joe Biden’s visit this week.
They laid out freshly cleaned red carpets, which will be cleaned repeatedly before Biden sets foot on them. Israeli and American flags were pressed upon an iron board in the small reception room, where the president holds tete-a-tetes with visiting dignitaries. The flags were also strategically placed in various areas throughout the presidential compound.
“We face another opportunity to strengthen our collaboration in many fields, including defense, security and technology,”Czech president Milos Zeman
A large tent has been set up in the garden for media teams, and a huge stage has been built and installed in the middle of the plaza. There are also lighting effects and floral displays in the colors of the star-spangled banner.
In January 2020, the President’s Residence was similarly transformed beyond recognition. At that time, former president Reuven Rivlin hosted world leaders that had come to Israel for the Fifth International Holocaust Forum, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and was held just ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
American presidents and secretaries of state have always received a warmer welcome in Israel than their counterparts from other countries. Biden, despite disagreements on certain issues (most notably Iran), will not be an exception. In fact, Herzog will bestow upon him the Presidential Medal of Distinction.
Herzog returned on a high note from the Czech Republic despite reports of increasing antisemitism in the country. But at an official level, there is much goodwill towards Israel and the Jewish people.
Israel's best friend in Europe
President Milos Zeman, who invited the Herzogs to the Czech Republic, calls himself Israel’s best friend in Europe. Although not Jewish himself, in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 2015, Zeman urged the world to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish people. Addressing a packed auditorium in Washington, he declared, “Now we must all say ‘I am a Jew.’”
He has since repeated this on several occasions, including saying it in Hebrew: “Ani Yehudi.”
In an address to the Knesset in November 2018, Zeman again emphasized the importance of solidarity with Israel. “If we betray Israel, we betray ourselves,” he said.
On Monday, Zeman inadvertently upstaged Biden by being the first person to whom Herzog awarded the Presidential Medal of Distinction. The process had been initiated by former president Shimon Peres, but the medal had not been awarded during Rivlin’s term as president.
“We thank you for your support for the State of Israel in international forums,” Herzog said before presenting the award at the Prague Castle. “We thank you for your clear moral stance in taking Israel’s side against the many enemies who wish to destabilize the Middle East. I thank you for your staunch support and your decision concerning the relocation of the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. This is yet another example of your friendship.”
Czech support for Israel since 1948
Herzog also made a point of speaking about Czech support of the establishment of the State of Israel and of the great Czech leaders who had stood by Israel’s side.
“We face another opportunity to strengthen our collaboration in many fields, including defense, security and technology,” Zeman said as he welcomed Herzog to Prague Castle.
He reiterated the Czech Republic’s full support of Israel, and condemned the decision by the UN Human Rights Council to censure Israel.