Since the renewal of diplomatic relations between Israel and Russia in 1991, the two countries have enjoyed cooperation in various fields, from security to tourism. Marking the 30th anniversary of ties, the foreign ministers of the two states exchanged diplomatic notes in these exclusive opinion pieces for Ynet's sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth (For Hebrew and Russian).
Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid:
This month marks thirty years since the renewal of relations between Israel and Russia. The truth is that ties between the Jewish people and the Russian people have lasted for centuries. Jews have lived in Russia for hundreds of years. There was a rich and diverse Jewish life in Russia, where Yiddish culture and the Hasidic movement developed. The Russian Empire was the cradle of modern Zionism, and from there came the immigrants of the First Aliyah.
The Jewish people both influenced, and were influenced by, Russian culture. Our common heritage includes Zionist thinkers and writers such as Pinsker, Ahad Ha'am, Bialik and many others who came from and were inspired by the Russian Empire. The creation of our national theater, Habima, was inspired by Russian theater. In our concert halls, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff are played, and every child knows Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Zionist and Israeli statesmen including Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and many others not only spoke Russian but were influenced by the thinking and political practice in Russia and Europe of their time.
Our people knew periods of light, and periods of terrible darkness. The Jewish people and the Russian people stood on the same side of the historical barricade in the greatest, most terrible struggle for the fate of humankind during World War II. The Jewish people and the State of Israel will forever remember the decisive contribution of the Red Army to the victory over Nazi Germany, and to the liberation of the concentration and extermination camps.
My father Tommy, may his memory be for a blessing, was himself saved by a Russian plane. In the winter of 1945, my father was a small child when he and his mother were taken and led away by the Nazis in a convoy through the streets of Budapest. A Russian plane descended directly above them, causing panic and the convoy to disperse. My grandmother took advantage of the commotion and pushed my father into a small bathroom closet, saving him from death. Who knows what would have happened if that Russian plane had not flown by that day, over the streets of Budapest.
More than 1.5 million Jewish soldiers joined up to serve with the Allied armies. One of them was my uncle, Lezi Lampel, who had escaped from a labor camp and joined the Red Army. He was just one of the half a million Jews who fought in the Red Army and in the partisan battalions. Two hundred thousand of them never returned from the battlefield.
Our commitment today is twofold - to remember the past and to look ahead to the future. Today, Israel and Russia stand on the same side against anti-Semitism and against any attempt anywhere to rewrite the history of the Holocaust. This is an important message that powerfully resonates.
An immense, broad human bridge connects our two countries and two peoples. Hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking Israelis connect to Russia and hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia feel the connection to Israel, providing for an endless array of opportunities. They, their communities and friends help to strengthen our ties in commerce, tourism, science and culture.
I would like to thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for advancing our relations and many achievements between our two countries, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has been managing diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Russian Federation for many years. Thanks to their work, we signed a visa exemption agreement more than a decade ago, which increased the flow of tourists between our countries fivefold. Prior to the pandemic, nearly one million people traveled on close to one hundred weekly flights between Russia and Israel. We are confident that we will return to that same level once we overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Israel and Russia share great interest in broad cooperation across the fields of medicine, hi-tech, science and research, agriculture and infrastructure. There is nothing that cannot be improved through shared innovation and reciprocity. We are in the midst of negotiations towards signing a free trade area agreement between Israel and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member. The agreement will allow for further significant upgrades to our economic and commercial ties to our mutual benefit.
Russia and Israel share a common interest in stability and peace in our region. From a regional and strategic perspective, Israel considers Russia an important partner.
Among others, the Iranian nuclear threat and the situation in Syria are issues that are openly and honestly discussed between us, the leaders of both countries. Here too, I would like to commend the Russian leadership for playing a large part in fostering both the understanding and coordination that our two countries have been able to achieve on important matters of national security.
All of this and much more forms a solid foundation for our relationship.
When we look at all we have achieved in three decades, we can be proud and look ahead with hope towards significant future achievements. I believe that now, more than ever, we have a historic opportunity to deepen the relationship between two peoples who already share a special bond. I am convinced that not only our past connects us, but our future as well. I intend to continue to build towards that future and an even stronger connection between Jerusalem and Moscow.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Russia Sergey Lavrov:
On October 18, Russia and Israel celebrate the 30th anniversary of the renewal of full-fledged diplomatic relations – the beginning of a new era of common history.
Turning to the pages of the past, let me recall that the USSR was the first country to recognize de jure the State of Israel back in May 1948. Of course, there were ups and downs in the chronicle of our relationship. Today, it could be assessed with confidence that Russian-Israeli mutually beneficial cooperation has stood the test of time and continues to actively develop in all directions.
Its foundation is formed by an intensive political dialogue, foremost – at the highest level. Inter-parliamentary contacts are progressing, bolstered by Friendship Groups established in the legislative bodies of our countries. Inter-ministerial communications are carried out on a regular basis.
Over the past decades, a solid experience of diversified cooperation has been accumulated in such spheres as economics, science and technology, healthcare and education. More than twenty acting intergovernmental agreements reflect the richness of the bilateral agenda.
Our mutual practical cooperation has significant potential. A number of joint projects are being successfully implemented. Many initiatives have received the support of the president of the Russian Federation and the prime minister of the State of Israel. The interest of Israeli business circles in entering the Russian market continues to grow. Despite the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, by the end of 2020 trade between Russia and Israel decreased by only 3.9 %, and in January-July this year it increased by 51.8% over the previous year’s period. The key coordinating mission in these common efforts is fulfilled by the Joint Russian-Israeli Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, founded in 1994. We are interested in the early resumption of its work in full.
A special role in strengthening the unifying baselines of our relations as well as ensuring their stability and continuity belongs to humanitarian contacts. We appreciate the high level of mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and Israel, connected by a common historical memory and convergence of cultures. It is encouraging that this thread, which has no geographic boundaries, is only getting stronger in course of time.
There are millions of Russian-speaking compatriots living in Israel, including descendants both from the former Republics of the USSR and from the Russian Federation. Veterans of World War II, survivors of the siege, former prisoners of concentration camps are among them. The fate of these people is of major interest to us.
Most vigorous rejection of the attempts of historical revisionism, combatting the distortion of the genesis, course and generally recognized international legal outcomes of World War II have always united Russia and Israel. We will continue to coordinate our efforts, and specifically at the UN, to counter this shameful phenomenon.
While in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe Nazi henchmen are being brought to the level of national heroes and neo-Nazi tendencies are being revived, the memory of the decisive contribution of the heroic soldiers of the Red Army to the Victory over Nazism, the saving of Jews and other peoples from extermination, the liberation of the world from the horrors of the Holocaust is sacred in Israel. We see how Israeli colleagues – at the state and public levels – encourage the activities of the veterans and compatriots movements, conduct active work to educate the younger generation.
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the law on Celebrating the Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9, approved by the Israeli parliament in 2017. It is particularly telling that on the 76th anniversary of the Great Victory, celebrated this year, festive events and commemorative parades along with the Immortal Regiment march were held in more than 45 Israeli cities. Thousands of Israelis of all ages as well as officials participated. This scale speaks for itself.
Cooperation in the field of education and science – whether through student and academic exchanges or joint scientific research continues to move forward. Every year, students from Israel get an opportunity to receive higher education in Russian universities. All of them are sincerely welcome there.
We hope that it will be possible to restore mutual tourist flows as soon as the sanitary and epidemiological situation improves. Russia is traditionally one of the top three countries in terms of the number of visitors to Israel.
The Russian-Israeli dialogue is vigorously advancing through the foreign ministries. It is obvious that without constructive interaction of diplomats it is impossible to solve a number of international and regional problems that are of paramount importance both for ensuring the prosperous future of the peoples of Russia and Israel just as for strengthening international and regional security and stability. From this perspective, diversified contacts between the Security Councils and the defense ministries of our countries have also proven themselves well. On a regular basis it allows us to compare approaches and take into account each other's legitimate interests.
Russia is pursuing an independent multi-vector foreign policy, contemplating pragmatism, the search for compromises and the observance of balances of interests. Creation of the most favorable external conditions for our internal socio-economic development remains its backbone. We have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners, therefore we can play an active role in the international arena and specifically through mediation in the settlement of conflicts.
We are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.
At the same time, we are convinced that there is no alternative to the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a generally recognized international legal basis. We strongly support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. A comprehensive solution to all issues of the final status is possible only through it. We are ready to work with Israeli colleagues, including multilateral formats, primarily in the context of the renewal of work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators in close cooperation with representatives of the Arab League.
I am convinced: it is in the common interest to maintain the momentum. Ahead of us are new milestones and additional opportunities not only to continue, but also to enrich the positive experience of multifaceted cooperation for the benefit of our states and peoples, in the interests of peace and stability.