There is little doubt that President Reuven Rivlin will go down in history as Israel’s football president.
Rivlin last week discussed football with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, promising him that he would watch Tuesday’s game when Britain is pitted against Colombia. On Monday of this week, as new ambassadors presented credentials to him, Rivlin opened a discussion on football with Colombian Ambassador Carlos Arturo Morales, who came with his son Carlos and members of his embassy including both the military and Air Force attachés. It is very rare for two representatives of the armed forces to accompany an ambassador presenting credentials.
Rivlin also congratulated Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov on the superb job that Russia has done in hosting the FIFA World Cup championship games, saying that the success of the endeavor was proof that Russia can do anything.
The most meaningful discussion was the conversation that Rivlin had with non-resident Armenian Ambassador Armen Smbatyan. Careful not to use the word ‘genocide,’ Rivlin told him that both as a City Council member of Jerusalem and as a Member of Knesset, he had frequently voiced the opinion that the Jewish people who suffered so much could not ignore the suffering of another people.
He said that when Armenians had come to the old city of Jerusalem following the terrible tragedy that had befallen them during the First World War, they were warmly welcomed by the Jewish residents.
Rivlin said he believed that the Armenian catastrophe should be regarded in historical not in political terms.
Smbatyan, who is stationed in Cairo, had been to Yad Vashem the previous day. In commenting on the Holocaust, remarked on how challenging it is for Israel to ensure that such a devastating calamity never again imposes itself on either the Jewish or the Armenian people. He saw a distinct unifying characteristic between Armenians and Jews in the dynamic of the human spirit and the will to survive.
“We talk about the genocide that was inflicted on Armenia, but it’s not a political issue,” he said. “It’s an issue of humanity.”
Acknowledging the importance of remembering the past, Rivlin said that it was even more important to live for the future.
A DIPLOMATIC curiosity among the ambassadors was Dr. Alvin J. Schonfeld, the first ever ambassador to Israel of Grenada, an island in the Caribbean. Schonfeld, who is Jewish and keeps kosher, actually lives in Chicago – but he is the one who persuaded Prime Minister Keith Mitchell to upgrade relations with Israel, with the result that he was appointed ambassador, even though he doesn’t actually live in Grenada. A pulmonologist by profession, he has long been the Honorary Consul of Grenada in Chicago.
Following his meeting with Rivlin, he told The Jerusalem Post that many years ago, he and his family had vacationed in Grenada, and thought it was so beautiful that they went back again.
One of his sons, Joshua, was born deaf, and has implants that enable him to hear. While the family was on a second visit to Grenada, they happened by chance to meet up with a sales representative for a hearing aid company who became absolutely fascinated with Joshua’s implants. The upshot was that the Schonfeld family became interested in Grenada’s school for the deaf and began sending medical equipment to improve the hearing and quality of life of the youngsters. As a result they became esteemed visitors with access to people in high places.
A few years back, Schonfeld, who is also an ardent Zionist, began coming to Israel for Agrotech, and kept telling Mitchell how valuable all that he learned there was to Grenada. Schonfeld actually suggested to Rivlin that Mitchell be officially invited to Israel, and Rivlin instructed his staff to take note.
New Zealand’s ambassador Wendy Jane Hinton, who is stationed in Ankara though not of Maori stock herself, wore a striking Maori cape over her dress. When complimented by this reporter, she said that she felt privileged to wear it.
In 1840, the indigenous Maori population, the British Crown and the New Zealand Government signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Although certain aspects of the treaty have lapsed to some extent at the expense of the Maoris, coexistence and mutual respect between people of different ethnic and national backgrounds in New Zealand is significantly better than it is in relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Hinton could have given Rivlin a few tips, but he was too busy telling her that New Zealand can be of assistance by getting the Palestinians to understand that the Jews have returned to their homeland, because there is no other place which Jews can call a homeland. He also pointedly recalled that when he visited New Zealand in his capacity as Speaker of the Knesset, he opened the Israeli embassy in the capital Wellington, and looked forward to the day when New Zealand would establish an embassy, if not in Jerusalem then at least in Israel.
Hinton said that there were no plans for that, but conceded that one should never say never.
IN HIS CONVERSATION with Colombian Ambassador Morales, who is a resident ambassador, Rivlin sent greetings to President elect Ivan Duque who is contemplating moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and is due to visit himself.
Morales said that he was very lucky to have been appointed ambassador to the Holy Land. He also heaped praise on Jaime Aron, a veteran lawyer, who was Israel’s ambassador to Colombia from 1981-84, and who is today Honorary Consul of Colombia as well as economic and/or legal advisor to the embassies of Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador. Morales said that Aron, who is well known to Rivlin, had opened many doors for him and had been of great assistance.
Morales voiced appreciation for what Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation has done to train students from Colombia in agriculture, water management and community leadership. He also invited Rivlin to visit Colombia, and Rivlin said that it was his intention to go there.
Rivlin also noted the strong cooperation between Israel and Colombia on matters relating to the fight against terrorism.
Morales wrote in the Presidential guest book: “Colombia and Israel are geographically distant but close in their commitment to democracy, peace and freedom.”
AS FAR AS Israel’s relations with Russia are concerned, Rivlin spoke of shared DNA, not only in terms of the one and a half million Israelis who are native Russian speakers, but also the fact that many of the nation’s early leaders migrated from Russia.
Rivlin also underscored that Russia, or the Soviet Union as it was then, was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel.
He also spoke of his two hour meeting in March, 2016, with President Vladimir Putin, and said that even though there are points of disagreement between Israel and Russia, the two understand each other and Russia knows that Israel has redlines with regard to security.
Rivlin also touched on the situation in Syria, saying that he wants to see the day when bloodshed in Syria will stop and that there will be stability in the Middle East.
“Israel is a very important country for Russia and relations are at an unprecedented high level,” Viktorov told Rivlin, adding that the bilateral relationship should be used for the prosperity of the region.
Explaining Russia’s ongoing presence in Syria, Viktorov said that what Russia is doing in Syria is well known. Russia began acting in Syria when the situation began to deteriorate. “Our presence there is to fight international terrorism and to stabilize the area and create a good neighbor environment,” he said.