The first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, felt warmth towards the Pinsk district (Belarusian Polesie) where he was born and raised, until the very end of his life. He once noted bitterly that most nations can be categorised as expelling Jews or not welcoming them. However, he called Belarusians a rare category: kind to Jews for many centuries. Alongside Mr. Weizmann, Belarus has given Israel two more presidents and two prime ministers. Today, around 120,000 Belarus-born people reside there and about 30,000 Jews are Belarusian citizens. Relations between Minsk and Tel Aviv can only be good as a result.
The first official visit by the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to Belarus (visiting the Presidential Residence and Belarus’ Foreign Ministry) testifies to mutual desire to develop collaboration. Strictly speaking, this isn’t Mr. Lieberman’s first visit to Minsk however. Last year, he attended events dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the destruction of Minsk’s ghetto. During this visit, he also spent much time visiting sites relating to WWII. “These sites are precious to us and it’s very important to preserve the historical truth of WWII. We can’t re-write history, denying the fact of the Holocaust,” he notes, expressing gratitude to Belarus for its efforts in this direction.
It was ten years ago that this Chisinau-born man first visited Belarus. That year, he founded the Israel is Our Home party, relying on the ‘Russian aliyah’ (those born in CIS countries). On greeting his guest, Mr. Lukashenko admitted that he has kept a close eye on elections to the Knesset and ‘is very pleased that things have turned out as they have’. The Israel is Our Home party has received great support from voters, enabling Mr. Lieberman to occupy the post of Foreign Minister.
“Frankly, I want us to use this period to establish relations. Israel will only benefit from this, as will Belarus,” noted the Belarusian President. “I’ll be glad if your personal contribution and authority in Israel will serve to normalise our relationships with Europe and the USA.”
Mr. Lukashenko is confident that all will work well, noting that thousands of Belarus-born people currently reside as Israeli citizens and bring ‘gentle moral fibre’ to our relations, ‘leaving their imprint and, perhaps, forming the basis of relations’.
The Head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry notes that ‘Israel highly appreciates stronger relations with Belarus over the last year’. “You are one of the few states sending a big delegation to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel,” Mr. Lieberman added. He also commented on the ‘well-balanced position of the Belarusian media regarding operations in the Gaza sector.’
During the Israeli Foreign Minister’s visit to Minsk, important for both states, economic collaboration topped discussions. “We should devote the next years to boosting trade,” stressed Mr. Lieberman, speaking to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Last year, turnover between Belarus and Israel totalled $70m. “Our task is to transform normal human relations into economic interaction,” echoed Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov. He believes mutual collaboration ‘isn’t large-scale’ and is seeing the first signs of growth already, judging by investments. Last year, Israel injected $12m and, today, Israeli investors are ready to bring $500m into Belarus’ Silicon Valley. “I hope that the project will become a flagship for us and for future investors coming to Belarus,” notes Mr. Lieberman.
Minsk is especially keen to co-operate in the spheres of agriculture, medicine and science, where Israel has world-level achievements. A programme of cultural, educational and scientific co-operation for 2009–2012 has been signed in the Belarusian capital, with Minsk and Tel Aviv looking closely at developing their relationship for the long term.