Vaclav Klaus spent three days in Israel this week, his first official visit to the country since becoming president. Mr Klaus held talks with senior Israeli officials and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and also pleased his hosts by saying the Czech Republic would help the EU to adopt what he called a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The relationship between the Czech Republic and Israel is very close, due to a combination of historical and political factors. The Czech lands had a vibrant Jewish community going back around 1,000 years. In the 17th century for example, an estimated twenty percent of Prague was Jewish. Over the centuries the Czech lands were traditionally less hostile to Jews than other countries in Eastern Europe. Then came the Nazi occupation, and almost 80,000 Czech Jews perished in the Holocaust. After the war, however, Czechoslovakia proved to be instrumental in the creation of Israel. Professor Borivoj Hnizdo, from Charles University.
"The existence of the state of Israel maybe wouldn't have happened, or would have happened in a very different way, if there hadn't been any help from Czechoslovakia at that time. Czechoslovakia's Communist regime helped Israel very much in the spring of 1948. The political situation was very different in the Middle East. Israel was a new phenomenon and the new Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union didn't have a lot of official allies on the international scene. Czechoslovakia at that time was a founder member of the UN so it was a very good ally, and for the Soviet Union and for Czechoslovakia it looked as if maybe Israel would be the centre, the core area of the new influence of the Soviet bloc in the Middle East."
Things soon changed. Stalin turned against Israel and as a result official anti-Semitism spread throughout the Soviet bloc, and Czechoslovakia was no exception. The situation has changed radically since the fall of Communism however. Professor Hnizdo says Czechs are generally more sympathetic to Israel and Israelis than many of their European neighbours.
"We are not the only country which maybe has the feeling that this relationship needs some balance. Of course it's not just the opinion of President Klaus, but maybe the public as well, that some countries in the EU are more pro-Palestinian in this complicated conflict. I don't think it's possible for the Czech Republic to change this, but maybe to help to bring some new elements, to create a new balance, and maybe a slightly new relationship between EU countries and Israel."
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