JPost - Mon, Jan 31, 2011
Peres: Israel has great respect for Egyptian president
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
President acknowledges "not everything [Mubarak] did was right," in
official reception of Costa Rican ambassador.
President Shimon Peres has not abandoned his old friend Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak. "We always have had and will have great respect
for President Mubaraek. Not everything he did was right, but he did do
one thing for which all of us are thankful. He was the peace keeper of
the Middle East," Peres told incoming Costa Rican Ambassador Rodrigo
Carreras, the first of five new ambassadors who on Monday presented
their credentials. The others were Estonia's Tiina Intelmann, Chile's
Joaquin Montes Larrain, Bulgaria's Yuri Borissov Sterk and Ethiopia's
Helawe Yosef Mengistu.
Acknowledging that Mubarak had not always taken an ideal course, Peres,
alluding to the riots in Egypt and the current regime in Iran, declared
"a fanatic religious oligarch is not better than lack of democracy." He
then went on to say that most people think that democracy is only
elections. But democracy is much more, he asserted. It is also peace and
For Carreras, who was previously Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel in the
late 1980s, and whose father Benjamin Nunez had twice been ambassador
before him, it was like a homecoming. When he heard the playing of the
Costa Rican and Israeli national anthems at the start of the ceremony,
Carreras confessed, it had brought tears to his eyes.
He had actually left the Foreign Service after serving as ambassador to
Nicaragua and directing Costa Rica's School of Foreign Service to go
into academia. He was teaching at the university when President Laura
Chinchilla took office in May, 2010. She invited him to come back to the
Foreign Service and when he asked her where she wanted him to go, she
told him that she wanted him to go back to Israel to take the
relationship between Costa Rica and Israel back to the high level that
it had been before. Chinchilla may personally contribute to this
endeavor if she accepts the invitation to come to the President's
Tomorrow Conference in June of this year. Carreras said that she was
keen to come and had spoken to him about her possible participation.
A representative of Israel's Foreign Ministry told The Jerusalem Post
that the ambassador's father had been transferred from Israel to the
United Nations, because Costa Rica wanted him to look out for Israel's
Coincidentally, Estonia's Tiina Intelmann, spent six years as her
country's ambassador to the United Nations before being transferred to
Israel. Peres welcomed her as her country's first resident ambassador to
Israel. There have been several Estonian ambassadors to Israel in the
past, but none who actually lived here. Estonia opened an embassy in Tel
Aviv some 18 months ago. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ives visited
Israel in June, 2010.
At that time, Ives had told Peres that both countries know what it means
to stand up and fight for your existence. Intelman said that she had
spent a lot of time with Ives just before coming to Israel, and that he
had shared with her the impressions of what he had seen and learned. He
was extremely interested in enhancing cooperation with Israel especially
in the areas of information technology and security.
Intelman also met with representatives of Estonia's Jewish community who
enthusiastically remembered Peres's visit to Estonia last year.
Although she still needs to learn and understand a lot about Israel said
Intelman, she was in a sense very familiar with Israel because the
complex issues related to the Middle East in general and Israel in
particular were so frequently on the UN agenda.
When sitting down to chat with Chilean Ambassador Joaquin Montes
Larrain, Peres remarked: "Chile certainly gave a message to the world.
All of us salute you." He was of course referring to the superhuman
efforts made to rescue Chilean miners who spent 68 days trapped
underground in a mine in Chile. "What you did was unforgettable," said
Peres citing the Talmudic quote: He who saves a single life is as one
who saved a whole world.
The rescued miners, together with their spouses will visit Israel on a
special Holy Land pilgrimage of thanks, as guests of the Tourism
Ministry. They are due to arrive in Israel on February 23, for an 8 day
tour that will include visits to the holy sites, prayer meetings with
religious leaders and general sightseeing.
Montes Larrain said that his country was extremely grateful to the
Israel Government and the Ministry of Tourism for the invitation. He was
also excited at the anticipated visit at the beginning of March of
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who will be the first Chilean
President to visit Israel in more than four decades. Montes Larrain
invited Peres to visit Chile which has changed somewhat since Peres was
there close to forty years ago in his capacity as Minister for
Transportation. At that time Chile was launching subway travel, and
Peres was eager to see it in the hope of adapting it to Israel, where
today's frustrated citizens would be reasonably happy if the light rail
system was already working and if there was an express train between
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not to mention any train that would go from the
northern tip to the southern tip of the country and back.
After receiving Sterk's letter of credence, Peres said that he could not
speak about Bulgaria without sentiment. Casting his mind back to the
Holocaust years, Peres lauded the manner in which Bulgaria had behaved
in relation to its Jewish population.
"Bulgaria proved that a different attitude was possible," responded
Sterk. He regretted that while Bulgaria was under Soviet rule, there was
no possibility of developing relations, but was hopeful that the two
countries could make up for the long lacuna especially with cooperative
projects in high technology, agriculture, defense and security.
Bulgaria, as a member of the European Union, could do a lot towards the
development of friendship and cooperation between the EU and Israel, he
Returning to the subject of what Bulgaria did for its Jews during the
Holocaust, Sterk said that one of his missions was to create greater
awareness of this by persuading Yad Vashem to name more Bulgarians as
righteous among the nations.
Peres noted that Bulgaria's relations with the Jews and Israel were as
good as ever as exemplified by the instant Bulgarian response to the
recent Carmel fires when it sent in a team to help extinguish the flames.
Peres who claims to be more interested in the future than the past,
nonetheless often hooks to ancient history when meeting new ambassadors.
He did so again with Ethiopia's Mengistu, saying that Israel's
relationship with Ethiopia was not only political but historical going
back to Biblical times and the liaison between King Solomon and the
Queen of Sheba.
Peres commended Ethiopia for defending its heritage, especially taking
into account its isolation from Christian communities.
Ethiopian immigrants to Israel he said, were a bridge to understanding
between the two countries and their continued relations. "We look on
Ethiopia as a dear and important friend," said Peres, and reminisced
about his visit there in the days of Emperor Haile Selassi. Mengistu
invited Peres to undertake a state visit to Ethiopia some time this year.
The pomp and ceremony that usually accompanies the presentation of
credentials, was on this occasion diluted for two reasons. One is that
the thirty day mourning period for the President's wife Sonia has not
yet expired, and the other was the inclement weather.
Usually, an IDF honor lines the path on which the new ambassador walks
to the door of Beit Hanassi and a police or army band plays the national
anthems and Israeli marching songs beneath the pergola at the entrance
to the building.
On Monday both the honor guard and the Israel Police Band were crowded
into the main reception area inside the building. The only music played
were national anthems and there were also some minor changes of protocol.
Likewise on Tuesday, the reception for German Chancellor Angela Merkel
will be low-key and will be treated as a working visit rather than a
state visit in consideration of the fact that Peres is still in mourning.