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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspects an honor guard with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana presidential palace in Singapore..(Photo by: REUTERS)
Netanyahu: Foreign relations expanding
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
03/29/2017
PM Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement on Tuesday following a series of diplomatic visits he has conducted recently in a growing effort to tighten Israel's relations with new potential allies.
BDS notwithstanding, Israel’s diplomatic ties with other countries are on the rise.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that Israel, which has diplomatic relations with 161 countries, will reportedly solidify ties with Nicaragua some time next week.

Nicaragua, one of Israel’s harshest Latin American critics – along with Valenzuela, Bolivia, and Cuba – cut off ties with Israel following Israel’s raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 that killed nine people.

The Mavi Marmara was trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu was speaking at the President’s Residence at the annual memorial ceremony for deceased presidents and prime ministers, where he characterized Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and its second prime minister and first foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, as “men of the first magnitude.”

He repeated this comment, declaring that he, as a disciple of Jabotinsky, regarded these two Mapainiks (supporters of the historical Israeli Labor Party) as men of the first magnitude who were dedicated to Israel’s independence.

The ceremony is held annually on the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan. According to the Book of Exodus, this is the Jewish New Year (one of four) and is also known as the beginning of the Month of Kings. Because Israel no longer has a king, it was decided that this would be the date on which Israel would honor its late presidents and prime ministers, and select one from each group each year as a subject for literary research. The best examples of such research would receive the President’s Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize.

Leah Marmorstein-Yarhi received this year’s President’s Prize and Prof. Gavriel Shefer received the Prime Minister’s Prize. An honorary mention was awarded to Ya’acov Sharett, the son of Moshe Sharett, for establishing the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society to preserve his father’s legacy.

A native son of Jerusalem, Navon, who was born on the first of Nissan, was the first sabra Sephardi president. Moshe Sharett was the architect of Israel’s foreign policy and responsible for the initial establishment of diplomatic relations with many countries.

Netanyahu also credited Moshe Sharett with opening Israel’s gateway to Asia. In this context, Netanyahu mentioned his own recent visit to China, while President Reuven Rivlin went to Vietnam. He also mentioned his visit to Singapore, where Rivlin visited two years ago, as well as Rivlin’s recent visit to India and the upcoming visit to Israel by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“There is a dramatic change in the world” in its attitude toward Israel, Netanyahu said. Representatives of other countries see Israel as an economic, technological and military power house and they want to be part of that. They are coming to Israel and saying that they want to boost relations, he added.

Netanyahu also spoke admiringly of Navon, and recalled how they used to meet each year during the Bible Quiz, where Navon “was sharp but with a sense of humor.”

Rivlin spoke of Navon and Moshe Sharett exchanging notes in Arabic when they didn’t want anyone else to understand.

Rivlin said that Navon had been one of the most beloved of Israel’s presidents and that he was “an educator in his soul.” He campaigned against illiteracy and encouraged the teaching of Arabic in schools.

“He was from a family that enabled him to call me a new immigrant,” quipped Rivlin, whose family came to Jerusalem in 1809. Navon’s father’s family was expelled from Spain and had gone to Turkey, arriving in Jerusalem in 1670, and his mother’s family came from Morocco in 1742.

Both Rivlin and Netanyahu mentioned that Navon’s fluency in Arabic had won the hearts of the Egyptians when he addressed the Egyptian Parliament. Netanyahu went even further, saying their hearts had melted.

Rivlin also commended Navon for having fought hard for the preservation of Sephardi culture during a melting-pot period. Although he believed that there should be a national common denominator, he disagreed with Ben-Gurion, who wanted to do away with the traditions that immigrants had brought with them. Navon believed that traditions should be preserved and passed on to future generations.

Rivlin and Netanyahu each paid tribute to Shimon Peres, who had been involved in all major decisions of the state since its inception.

Netanyahu said that it is still difficult to absorb the fact that he is no longer here.

A strike among office workers at the President’s Residence threatened to mar the memorial ceremony.

To prevent this, the State of Israel asked the Jerusalem District Labor Court to order the strikers back to work. The court president, Judge Eyal Avrahami, issued an interim injunction ordering the employees to desist from any action that would undermine the ceremony or the visit on Wednesday of Slovakian President Andrej Kiska.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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