(Communicated by the President’s Spokesperson)
 
The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, is leaving on Monday, 19 September 2005, for state visits to the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and will return on Thursday, 22 September 2005.
 
This is the first state visit of a President of Israel to these countries which have recently joined the European Union and therein lies the importance of the visit which is meant to strengthen the relations between the State of Israel and European countries.

The President and his delegation will commence their state visit in Estonia (19 September), on the invitation of the President of Estonia, Mr. Arnold Ruutel. During the visit President Katsav will hold work meetings with the President of Estonia, with the Speaker of the Parliament and with the acting Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

The President will continue his visit to Latvia (20 September), on the invitation of the President of Latvia, Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga.  During the visit President Katsav will hold work meetings with the President of Latvia, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament.

The President will end his visit in Lithuania (21 September), on the invitation of the President of Lithuania, Mr. Valdas Adamkus. During the visit, President Katsav will hold work meetings with the President of Lithuania, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament.

The President will meet with the local Jewish communities in the three countries and will also participate, together with the Presidents of the countries, in memorial events for the victims of the Holocaust.

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State visit to Estonia
 
The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, this morning (September 19) started his state visit to Estonia, on the invitation of the President of Estonia, Mr. Arnold Ruutel. This is the first state visit of the President of Israel in Estonia.

The President was received with a full military ceremony in the Kadriorg President´s Residence in Tallinn by the President of Estonia and members of the Government. Pupils of the Jewish School in Tallinn received the President with Hebrew songs and waved flags of Israel.

President Katsav and President Ruutel met for a working meeting and afterwards held a press conference. The Estonian media showed interest mainly in the Disengagement Plan and its ramifications. President Katsav said that the Disengagement Plan was of great concern to the Government and people of Israel for the past year. The decision regarding the Disengagement Plan was taken democratically after a year of discussions in the government, in the Knesset, in the Supreme Court, in the media and in Israeli society.

"It is a difficult step to evacuate Jewish settlements in Gaza, but the Knesset´s decision was honored and at present we are dealing with the question of how to reduce the harm caused to certain sectors of Israeli society as a result of the evacuation. The State of Israel is committed to provide the evacuees with all the necessary conditions," said the President.

In replying to the question on the increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, the President said that it is the result of cooperation between a number of elements – the extreme right, the extreme left, groups opposed to globalisation and Muslim extremists.

President Katsav praised the President of Estonia on his declaration last year that he would fight with determination against anti-Semitic incidents in his country.

The two Presidents discussed the bilateral relations and agreed that there is a wide potential and that it is possible to increase and deepen the relations between the two countries in the cultural, economic, technological, research and development fields.

The Presidents also discussed the situation in the Middle East and the need to act with determination against the Palestinian terrorism. President Katsav said that the terrorism prevents any possibility of making progress in the political process in the Middle East.

Later the Speaker of the Estonian Parliament, Ms. Ene Ergma, gave a luncheon in honor of the President of Israel in the Academy of Science building. The President and the Speaker of the Parliament discussed the warm friendship existing between the two countries, the potential of strengthening the political relations, as well as the relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the afternoon the President placed a wreath on the Memorial Monument of the Teachers and Students who fell in the war for freedom.

A wreath laying ceremony also took place in memory of the Holocaust victims in the Klooga Forest with the participation of both Presidents. President Katsav said in his address: "Today, September 19th, 61 years ago, SS soldiers fired at the remaining two thousand prisoners in the Klooga Camp, before they withdrew because of the advancement of the Red Army. I have come here on behalf of the people of Israel to commemorate the victims. We will never forget. Never again."

President Katsav also met with leaders and representatives of the Jewish community in Estonia in the community building.

In the evening President Katsav met with the acting Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense of Estonia, Jaak Joeruut. The Minister expressed his esteem of the State of Israel for carrying out the Disengagement Plan, which he called, an "historic step."

State visit to Latvia

On September 20, the President of Israel arrived on a state visit to Latvia on the invitation of the President of Latvia, Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

President Katsav was received in the Presidential Palace in Riga by the President, the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of the Latvian Parliament in a full state ceremony during which the anthems of both countries were played.

The President held a working meeting with the President of Latvia in which they discussed global issues, the situation in the Middle East, the relations between Israel and the Palestinians after the completion of the Disengagement Plan and the bilateral relations. The President of Latvia expressed esteem towards Israel on the steps it had taken to promote peace with the Palestinians and said that her country would make efforts to promote the peace process in the Middle East in order to achieve stability and democracy in the region.

President Katsav said that the terrorism towards Israel cannot be separated from the international terrorism. "There is a connection between the terror in London, the terror in Israel and that in the entire world. There must be full cooperation between the countries in the world in order to wipe out the epidemic of terrorism, which is the epidemic of the modern era."

The Presidents also discussed the existing potential for cooperation between the two countries.

After the private meeting, the Presidents held a press conference during which President Katsav replied to the questions of reporters. The President referred to the increase in anti-Semitism in Europe and said that the European leadership must confront anti-Semitic incidents by taking four steps: legislation, law enforcement, education and influencing public opinion.

He also expressed condolences on the death of Simon Wiesenthal: "Simon Wiesenthal was one of the greatest fighters in our generation and stood for human morality and the free and democratic world.
Wiesenthal devoted his life to achieve law and justice and to fight against racism and anti-Semitism. He contributed a great deal in order attain a better world for the next generation."

After the meeting the two Presidents placed wreaths on the Freedom Monument in the centre of Riga.

At noon the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of Latvia, Mr. Aigars Kalvitis, met for a working meeting. At the meeting the Prime Minister of Latvia expressed his condolences on the death of Simon Wiesenthal, who contributed a great deal to the fraternity of humanity.

The Prime Minister of Latvia noted that the first visit of the President of the State of Israel to Latvia is an historical and important event for the Government of Latvia. "We have waited a long time for this visit and I believe that the visit will strengthen and deepen the good relations between the two countries. Latvia is very interested in strengthening its economic-trade cooperation with Israel."

President Katsav recommended that meetings between business delegations from both countries take place in order to promote the trade initiative.

In the afternoon the President held a working meeting with the Speaker of the Parliament of Latvia, Ms. Ingrida Udre, who gave the President a short tour of the Parliament building. The President also met with the heads and representatives of the local Jewish community.

On September 21, President Moshe Katsav and the President of Latvia, Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, held a memorial service at the memorial site for the victims of the Holocaust in the Rumbolla Forest, on the outskirts of Riga, where 30,000 Latvian Jews were murdered.

The President of Latvia, in a voice choking with tears, said amongst other things: "I stand on this cursed soil which absorbed so much blood of innocent victims and condemn the lack of humanity and the ideology, in the name of which humans killed one another." The President, on behalf of the people of Latvia and herself, expressed sorrow to the President of Israel and, through him, to the people of Israel and promised, "We will not permit anti-Semitism on Latvian soil." The President turned to President Katsav and said: "Your presence in Latvia symbolizes the difference between the past and the present and is a sign of our determination to build a better future together."

The President of Israel opened his address and said: "I represent a people which, during its whole history, wanted to live without fear and in freedom without violence." The President added that silence, the closing of eyes and the slow response of the free world countries are likely to promote anti-Semitic incidents." In addition the President said: "There is no comfort in this place. I have come here to commemorate the murdered on behalf of the State of Israel which symbolizes the victory of hope over despair."

Afterwards the two Presidents continued to the site of the large synagogue in Riga which was burnt down with its congregants during the Second World War. There they laid a cornerstone for a monument in honour of the Righteous among the Nations.

Later the President went to the Occupation Museum which was established in 1993 and in which there is exhibited that which happened to the Latvian people and country under occupation from 1940 – 1991.

State visit to Lithuania

On September 21 at noon, President Moshe Katsav,started his state visit in Lithuania on the invitation of the President of Lithuania, Mr. Valdas Adamkus.

President Katsav was received in the Presidential Palace in Vilnius by his host, the President of Lithuania, in a full military ceremony and with the playing of the anthems of both countries. The Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament and members of the diplomatic corps serving in Lithuania participated in the ceremony.

The Presidents held a personal working meeting during which they discussed the bilateral relations, the developments in the Middle East and anti-Semitism which is growing in Europe.

The President of Lithuania referred to the issue of anti-Semitism and said that there are borderline groups which are trying to revive anti-Semitism, but the President promised that his country would use all the legal means at its disposal in order to crush anti-Semitic incidents. The President of Lithuania told President Katsav that the Lithuanian educational system includes the events of the Holocaust and its lessons in order to prevent the reoccurrence of similar happenings in the future. He also expressed interest in strengthening the relations with Israel in science, education and tourism.

The Presidents also discussed Iran and President Katsav emphasized that Iran is cheating the free world and added that the leaders must show determination towards Iran in order to prevent its attempts at nuclear armament. President Katsav said that Israel and Lithuania must strengthen their cooperation in security.

After the meeting a press conference took place during which the Presidents replied to the questions of reporters. In his opening statement the President of Lithuania said that his country praises the Government of Israel on the courageous steps it took in evacuating the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria.  He also said that the loss of the Lithuanian Jews in the Holocaust is also a loss for Lithuania. President Katsav said that the leadership has an influence on the public opinion and that this influence should be used to provide the young generation with moral-humanitarian values which oppose anti-Semitism.

On the issue of the return of Jewish property which was confiscated during the Second World War, the President said that Lithuania must find a way to do justice and expressed the conviction that the Lithuanian Government  would do so. The President of Lithuania replied that his government is examining the claims received regarding the return of Jewish property and added that part of them had already been approved and, as regards other claims, there is a problem of proving ownership.

After the meeting, the President laid a wreath on the freedom fighters graves in the Vilna cemetery.

The President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav was received on September 22 by the Speaker of the Parliament of Lithuania, Mr. Arturas Paulauskas, in the Parliament building in Vilna. The President and the Speaker held a working meeting in which they spoke about the bilateral relations, the potential which exists to strengthen the relations between the countries and the role of parliaments throughout the world in spreading democratic values.

The President said that he does not accept the argument that in the name of democracy and freedom of expression, it is permissible to publish anti-Semitic articles which nuture in the young generation xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, thereby endangering democracy, The President also brought the Speaker of the Parliament up-to-date on the post disengagement period and on Israel´s expectations of the Palestinians.

The Speaker of the Parliament raised his country’s wish that Israel open an embassy in Lithuania.

The following are the main points of the address of the President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav, which he delivered in Hebrew in the Lithuanian Parliament:

"I belong to a nation which suffered persecutions, expulsions, exiles, the Inquisition, over thousands of years, which reached their climax in the terrible Holocaust in which 6 million of our brothers were murdered in a terrible plan, the "final solution," the annihilation of the Jewish people."

"Lithuanian soil also saw the most terrible happenings. The magnificence community, which on the eve of the Second World War number approximately 250,000 people, was annihilated under the brutal Nazi regime and most of the Jewish community was killed in the terrible Holocaust. Unfortunately, many Lithuanians were accomplices in the act of annihilation. The trauma of the Holocaust will accompany the Jewish people forever."

"There is no forgiveness and no forgetfulness for the Holocaust. Many of the Jewish people still bear on their arms the numbers tattooed by the Nazis. The mental scars have been passed on also to the second and third generations. The families of the victims and the Holocaust survivors continue to mourn and weep. The Jewish people continues to bear the pain and sorrow."

Referring to anti-Semitism, the President said:

"We are facing a wave of anti-Semitism unknown since the end of the Second World War, a wave which is accompanied by aggressive incitement. Human innocence has weakened in the face of evil and demagogies. Let us change the trauma of the past into hope for the future, as a bridge of friendship between nations, as an incentive against totalitarianism and in favour of human values, as good tidings for humanity, against racism and against anti-Semitism."

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the President said:

"The State of Israel will no longer tolerate bloodshed in our streets, coffee houses, restaurants, discotheques, bus stops and buses. We will, under all circumstances, protect the rights of our citizens to live without fear of terror. The free world can help in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it uses its full influence and power in order to force the Palestinian Authority to fulfil its obligations to bring about the cessation of the Palestinian terrorism."

Afterwards President Katsav visited the grave of the Gaon of Vilna in the Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Vilna and also toured the Gaon of Vilna State Museum. In the afternoon the President will visit the great synagogue in Vilna and will meet with heads and representatives of the Jewish community. He will also participate, together with the President of Lithuania,  in a memorial service for the Lithuanian Holocaust victims.