FOUR NEW ambassadors presented credentials to President Shimon Peres on Monday. The first was Romanian envoy Edward Iosiper, who is in Israel on his first ambassadorial assignment, and who also happens to be Jewish.
Iosiper told Peres that the current situation in Romania is "very good." Romanians celebrated their national day on December 1, "for the first time as a fully-fledged member of the European Union," said Iosiper, who waited until after he presented his credentials to host his country's national day festivities in Israel.
He also prevailed on Romania's chief rabbi, former Labor MK Rabbi Menachem HaCohen to delay his return to Romania so that he could light the first Hanukka candle at the National Day reception.
Romania's economy is booming, said Iosiper, with not less than 5.5 per cent growth per annum over the last seven years. Last year it was eight percent, and this year it is expected to be seven percent.
He was pleased to report that many Israelis, including major companies, have invested in Romania and expressed the hope that more will follow. Bilateral trade with Israel stands at $408 million, a sum that Iosiper was certain could be improved.
"You invested in our country, so now we have to invest in yours," responded Peres who was referring to the large number of Jews of Romanian origin who had settled in Israel.
Romania is also benefiting from tourism said Iospier, but still has to provide Jewish heritage trails.
"We have many places with very rich Jewish history," Peres observed that many of Romania's Jews - some 400,000 - had been saved during the Holocaust years. But Iosiper noted that before the Second World War, Romania, with 800,000 Jews, had the third largest Jewish community in Europe.
Romania was looking forward to participating in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations said Iosiper and re-issued a standing invitation, from President Traian Basecu to Peres, to pay an official visit to Romania. If Peres accepts, said Iosiper, he will be the first Israeli president to visit his country.
Peres in previous capacities, both in government and opposition, made several visits to Romania, and recalled having once sat through a seven-hour meeting with president Nicolai Ceausescu.
"I never saw a man like that. He was a character," Peres remarked.
"When you travel to Romania as president of Israel, you will see a new country. Romania has transformed quite a lot," declared Iosiper.
The second envoy was Sri Lankan Ambassador Wijekoon Mudiyanselage Senevirathna, who had previously served in the Philippines.
Peres and Senevirthna had a lot to talk about in comparing the terrorist threat hanging over Sri Lanka to that facing Israel. There have been suicide bombers from among the Tamil rebels for 17 years, said Senevirathna.
Peres was also interested to hear from his guest that Sri Lanka has an advanced social welfare program under which education and health care "are totally free of charge."
Sri Lanka's three main export products are coffee, tea and cocoa.
Peres was curious as to whether there was any form of hi tech, and was assured that there have been a lot of foreign investments in hi tech, mainly from India, which Senevirathna said is "Sri Lanka's best friend." Sweden's Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier is a veteran diplomat whose previous positions have included president of the Conference on Disarmament, permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to China during the final phase of the Gang of Four.
Peres, who has long been an admirer of China, was more than happy to have the opportunity to discuss its merits.
He was also keen to have an explanation of the results of the last Swedish elections in which the Social Democrats were voted out of power. He wanted to know how long the Social Democrats had been in power. The overall period, making allowance for breaks, was around 40 years, according to Bonnier.
But parties are changing, she said, and Social Democrats today, are not what they were 20 to 30 years ago.
Peres commented that for years Sweden had been the best example of a welfare state. Was this still the case, now that the Social Democrats are out, he wondered.
Health, education and care for the elderly were election issues, replied Bonnier, but since everyone agreed on them, there was nothing to fight about. Sweden is not making any cuts in its welfare budget, she stated.
Like Peres, Bonnier said she believes in a world without borders.
"Sweden may be far away in the north, but always been internationally minded - and today people think globally," she said. "It was very important when looking at the future she said, "to get global dimensions mentally. It's not just a matter of where one can buy or where one can invest. We have to learn to share the planet."
Pondering on all the new combinations and openings in a global world, Bonnier said that she wished that she were 10 years old."
Austria's new ambassador, Michael Rendi, had visited Israel twice before his appointment, most recently last January, when he accompanied his wife Pamela, a medical researcher specializing in vaccination and immunology, to a medical conference sponsored by Hadassah.
She delivered a paper on Hepatitis B vaccination which had been produced in Israel.
While she's here, she plans to work in research and has already been accepted by Tel Aviv University.
Rendi brought regards from President Heinz Fischer, who hopes to visit Israel next November.
Asked by Peres how he had spent his first month in Israel, Rendi did not mention an unpleasant incident at the Western Wall, in which a group of Austrian bishops were denied access because they refused to take off their crucifixes.
However, he did talk about being a guest on Sunday night at an Austrian Airlines dinner where the company was celebrating the fact that its two daily flights from Tel Aviv to Vienna were fully booked.
Business people are commuting to do business on both sides, said Rendi. People also use Austrian Airlines as a gateway to Eastern Europe, he added.
On a bilateral note of a different dimension, he referred to the Israeli communications systems purchased by the Austrian Defense Ministry.
Cultural ties between the two countries are strong, he said, but will become even stronger in 2009, when Lintz becomes the cultural capital of Europe and Tel Aviv celebrates its centenary.
Rendi arrived at Beit Hanassi with both a request and an offer. He wanted Israel's support for Austria's candidature in the UN Security Council, where the other contenders are Turkey and Iceland. He was aware that Israel wants to be a candidate in 2019, and assured Peres that Austria has a long memory, and that if it receives Israel's support, there will be a quid pro quo.
As far as the offer was concerned, Rendi said that Austria stands ready to be supportive on all aspects of the peace process, and offered Vienna as a discreet meeting place.
"We already experienced that with Sadat and Kreisky," retorted Peres, who related that when he had come at Bruno Kreisky's invitation to meet Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he had been a member of the opposition. Although the Austrian Foreign Ministry had sent a police motorcycle escort, it had failed to send a car, because Peres was not a minister.
Unperturbed, Peres said, he would take a taxi, but this was unacceptable to the flustered Foreign Ministry officials who came to greet him. They got in touch with Kreisky's office and in the final analysis, Kreisky sent his own car.
When Peres met Sadat, the latter asked him whether he could speak to him in absolute confidence. Peres replied in the affirmative, but added that Sadat should know that every word would be repeated to Menachem Begin.
When Rendi asked what Austria could do now to help the peace process along, Peres outlined the plan for industrial zones that would provide a sum total of 300,000 jobs for Palestinians, and suggested that perhaps Austria could join forces with Germany in creating facts on the ground that would make jobs available.
Rendi replied that when Fischer comes in November, he will bring a large business delegation with him that will certainly look into this kind of investment. When Peres detailed the locations of the industrial zones, one of which is near Jericho, Rendi remarked that the Austrians had once built a casino there, and were ready to resume operations at any time.
WITH THE exception of Zvi Rav-Ner who heads the Foreign Ministry's Central European and Euro-Asia Desk, and Amira Arnon, Israel's ambassador to Albania, Nitza Raz, the director of the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Department, and of course members of the Albanian Embassy, Albanian Ambassador Tonin Gjuraj did not invite any diplomats to his country's National Day celebrations held in the intimate atmosphere of the Manhattan Restaurant in the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange complex.
Instead, he invited mostly Albanians, friends of Albania, and Holocaust survivors who had been saved by Albanians, among them Jasha and Esther Altarac.
Gjuraj noted that Albania, throughout its history had faced many difficulties, challenges and injustices, but thanks to the determination of its people, their love for freedom and democracy and the support of the democratic West, it had succeeded in leaving its "unlucky past" behind.
The last 17 years, he said, have marked significant changes. Albania now enjoys political stability, sustainable economic growth and inflation control.
It also fights human trafficking, organized crime and corruption. Albania's immediate objective is to receive NATO membership at the Bucharest summit in the spring of 2008.
Albania's most important project, he said, was to achieve full integration into the Euro-Atlantic structure, namely NATO and the European Union.
As far as relations with Israel are concerned, he was pleased to note that the two countries have signed a Visa Exemption Agreement, direct investment and cooperation are becoming more visible, and that the governments of the two countries are united in their attitude to terrorism.
Albania, he underscored, has been one of the most outspoken advocates for Israel's security needs.
Gjuraj also commended the charge d'affaires, Qirjako Kureta, who has been head of mission for almost a year, and who is returning this month to Albania.
Kureta doesn't mind leaving, so long as he can come back, and has already advised his superiors that he wants to be the next ambassador to Israel.
In the absence of a government minister, Rav-Ner delivered congratulatory message of the government, emphasizing that Israel and the Jewish people express their deepest appreciation to Albania for saving so many Jews and being the only country in Europe in which there were more Jews after the war than before the war.
Sixty-three Albanians, he said, had recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.
On a more current note, he was happy to welcome the first ever flight - a charter - to Israel from Albania, with more than 100 passengers, and expressed the hope that this would lead to cooperative efforts to boost tourism from each country to the other.
GREEK AMBASSADOR Nicholas Zafiropoulos and his wife, Lynne, hosted a buffet dinner at their residence recently to express appreciation to companies and individuals who contribute to Greek-Israeli economic relations.
Headlined "A Taste of Greece," the event featured traditional Greek dishes such as tzatziki - a cucumber and yoghurt dip flavored with dill and garlic; melitzanosalata - an aubergine puree dip; salata pantzaria - beetroot salad with olive oil and parsley; spankotiropitakia - feta cheese and spinach pies; arni me patates sto fourno - roast lamb and potatoes flavored with lemon, garlic and oregano; soutzoukakia - cumin flavored meatballs in tomato sauce; and galactoboureko - sweet semolina custard pie.
The Greek music was recorded. The reason there were no live bazouki players, explained Zafiropoulos, was because of the inclement weather. If they had been invited to play, they would have played on the patio, but with rain clouds in the sky, it was too risky to chance.
Although some of the guests were native Greek speakers, they left the truly excellent Ouzo untouched and opted for wine. The only person who drank the Ouzo was definitely not Greek. Although the weather has been relatively mild, especially in relation to the winter season, the ambassador and his wife have already stocked up for the cold weather. Wood logs were piled up against one wall of the patio, ready for the fire place as soon as temperatures are sufficiently low.
FOR ASPIRING Likud MK, Sagiv Assulin, a former chairman of the National Students Union and one of the ex-significant others of former MK Gila Gamliel, November 29 was not only the anniversary date of the UN Resolution for the Partition of Palestine.
It also happened to be the date on which he got married to lawyer Keren Cohen at the Ella Gardens in Ness Ziona.
The guest list was top heavy with Likudniks and ex-Likudniks, and those who couldn't come sent congratulatory messages. Reuven Rivlin did even better and telephoned immediately after the ceremony to offer his good wishes.
Gamliel, who since splitting with Assulin had a highly publicized romance with Jerusalem businessman Amir Turgeman (who also got married a couple of months back), is still friendly with Assulin, and showed up at the wedding with her current beau.
Unlike some of the other people in the Likud, Assulin is obviously not trying to isolate the controversial Moshe Feiglin, who was also among the guests.
IT'S A long time since Tommy Lapid was director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but things have not changed all that much in the interim.
At last week's journalists' conference in Eilat, and again in his weekly radio program on Reshet Bet, Lapid threw some light on the reason that the IBA is constantly in deficit.
For instance, when one of the commercial channels sends a crew to do an interview, the crew usually comprises the interviewer and the cameraman. When the IBA sends a crew, there's also a soundman, and sometimes one other technician as well.
The unions operating within the IBA are apparently so strong that inefficiency or criminal activity are not sufficient reasons to be able to fire someone, explained Lapid.
He said that during his tenure as IBA director-general, one of the employees was caught selling drugs to fellow employees. He was subsequently charged and convicted, but when he got out of prison, the IBA - in line with the collective wage agreement - was forced to take him back.
There was another case of a security guard who wasn't doing his job properly, but because he had union protection, the IBA couldn't fire him. He was sent home and received a salary for not coming to work, while the IBA hired another guard who was more suitable for the job.