Israeli ambassador on the occasion of 30 years of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Israel and Bulgaria
Jews and Bulgarians have lived side by side each other for centuries. Bulgaria was among the first countries to recognise the State of Israel, in 1948. However, Cold War politics played a decisive role in the next several decades and Bulgaria broke off diplomatic relations in 1967, a situation that continued all the way to 1990.
In 2020 the two countries mark 30 years of the resumption of diplomatic links, a good opportunity to look back on history but also to consider the future. Here is how Ambassador Yoram Elron views what unites Israelis and Bulgarians.
For Israel, Bulgaria is the country that saved all of its 48,000 Jews during World War II. Brave Bulgarians rose up against the planned deportation to Nazi concentrations camps. These included not just politicians, clergymen and officials but the general public who believed that Bulgarian Jews were full members of the society. This was the unique "Bulgarian Spirit." During the darkest chapter of human history, this courage stood out as a beacon of light. Most of the Bulgarian Jews immigrated to Israel after its establishment. They contributed substantially to the building of the new state. Therefore this is of particular importance in the relations between Israel and Bulgaria. These relations are based on long-lasting friendship.
September 19, 2019. Ceremony of Presentation of the Letters of Credence
Bulgarian Jews who immigrated to Israel, their children and descendants are very proud of their Bulgarian roots and heritage. They are a living bridge between the two countries. Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the IDF, Israel’s army, and current minister of foreign affairs, is a descendant of a Jewish family from Plovdiv.
How does the cooperation between the two nations continue nowadays – at the diplomatic and other levels – business, education, culture?
Bulgaria is one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Europe and further afield. It renders its steadfast and unequivocal support to Israel, in reference to the challenges it is facing internationally, always holding the moral high ground. For this, we as Israelis are extremely grateful to the Bulgarian government and people.
In the economy, cooperation is vast and extensive in areas of mutual interest such as innovation, cybersecurity, agricultural technologies and energy. Many Israeli companies have opened up offices in Bulgaria. The main factors that attract them are the quality workforce, the low tax rates and the strategic location of Bulgaria in Europe as well as its proximity to Israel.
Furthermore we have a huge interest in the development of cooperation with Bulgaria in various EU programmes. Israel and the EU are working together to achieve a greener and more sustainable future for our planet. These joint projects promote the objectives of the European Green Deal and Europe’s conversion into a climate-neutral continent by 2050. Israel is also proud of the partnership with the EU in the fight against the spread of coronavirus within Horizon 2020.
In the field of education and culture, our relations are also very active. Israeli students study at Bulgarian universities. Sofia University has a Hebrew Studies Department, set up in 2015.
March 10, 2020. Marking the Day of the Salvation of Bulgarian Jews by laying flowers to the Monument of Salvation in Sofia
Over 50 books by famous Israeli authors have been translated into Bulgarian. The Bulgarian reader also has had the opportunity to meet in person prominent Israeli writers visiting here such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Etgar Keret, Meir Shalev, Zeruya Shalev, David Grossman, Dror Mishani, Michael Bar-Zohar.
Israel is a world leader in innovation and new technologies.
Israel is a country keen to share its experience, knowledge and knowhow in the realm of sustainable development. I guess many are familiar with the activities of MASHAV – the State Agency for International Development Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But much of Israel's assistance to developing countries comes also through the numerous Israeli non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in this field. Their activities reflect the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which is an effort to contribute to the betterment of the world in which we live.
Israeli NGOs are involved in many areas: some are active in post-disaster emergency relief; other focus on community development and women empowerment, agriculture, public health, etc.
What do you think has the greatest potential for Bulgaria and Israel in the future?
The striking similarity between the two countries is the importance attached to the development of high-tech infrastructure. Israel is well-known as a start-up nation. It produces more start-ups per capita than Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, the UK.
As for Bulgaria, the capital Sofia is chosen as one of the eight locations in the EU where the first European supercomputers will be located – an acknowledgement for its preparedness to be a hub for innovation and knowledge on EU level. In this respect, the avenues for cooperation are endless.
Take for example the innovative agriculture technology that determines how food and other agricultural products are grown, picked, packaged, stored, transported, processed and sold which makes the farm-to-table process more efficient, sustainable and safe. Israel is in a unique position to use advanced technological solutions to meet the challenges of the global farming community at all stages of the food supply chain including innovative methods and technologies for "growth with less" long before it became one of the major world challenges.
Another area of innovation is water technology, which covers all technologies to increase water supply. Israel's water capabilities are leading the transition to sustainable water management through a wide range of technologies: energy-efficient desalination, which turns seawater into fresh water, environmentally friendly biological wastewater treatment for cost-effective water reclamation, smart irrigation for reduced water consumption and increased yield.
December 18, 2019. Meeting with members of Bulgaria-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group
Tourism is also an important component of our bilateral relations as over 250,000 Israelis visit Bulgaria every year. They appreciate the Bulgarian hospitality, nature, rich history, culture and cuisine. Yet, there are still regions that are yet less well known to Israeli visitors. For example, in July I visited Vidin – a beautiful town with many historical sites, and a place with a very promising future, which could easily fit in on the tourist map for Israelis. The town administration has set as a priority the restoration of the Synagogue building, which was the second largest in Bulgaria and is unique in its architectural ornaments.
Bulgaria is as well a popular destination for health tourism and wellness. The country has a rich traditional background. Many spa resorts across the country offer a variety of specialised professional service and have the potential to become a destination of choice for health tourists from Israel.
What were your impressions when you arrived in Bulgaria? And what has changed now, a year after you stepped in as an ambassador in Sofia?
I consider myself extremely fortunate and privileged to be posted as ambassador of Israel to Bulgaria. Every day this sentiment gets stronger. The friendship towards Israel is heartwarming and inspiring. It is also a source of motivation to strive continuously to enhance and strengthen the bilateral relations even further.
I have been in Bulgaria for just over a year, but it does not take that long to come to appreciate and admire it. My family and myself, as we travel around the country, never cease to be amazed by its rich history, beautiful diverse landscapes and nature, as well as by the extremely hospitable warm people. Today, I can also fully appreciate why Bulgarian cuisine has made a name for itself around the world, although I have to admit that I am still trying to adjust to the taste of the many varieties of rakiya that are produced here.
Yoram Elron, Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria since August 2019, has been a member of the diplomatic service for 32 years. Prior to his arrival in Bulgaria, he was the Deputy Director General for Africa at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. His missions abroad include Ambassador of Israel to Cameroon, Consul General of Israel to Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, Canada, Roving Ambassador to Madagascar, Congo and Gabon. He holds an MA in Political Science and BA in International Relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.