Knesset Speaker: ”Havel spoke in the name of freedom, the belief in liberty, and above all political responsibility.”

The Knesset Plenum marked the passing of former Czech President Vaclav Havel with addresses by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chairman of the Parliamentary Israel-Czech Friendship Association, Knesset Member Doron Avital, who initiated the event. After the speeches, the plenum stood to observe a moment of silence.

Present for the commemoration were the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, Czech Ambassador to Israel Tomas Pojar, Czech Ambassador to Austria and to United Nations Institutions Veronika Kuchynova-Smigolava, Czech Ambassador to Britain Michael Zantovsky, Slovakian Ambassador to Israel Radovan Javorcik, Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Ya`akov Levi, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, former Israeli Ambassadors to the Czech Republic Rephael Gavir and Yoel Shar, and former Justice Minister and Member of the Canadian Parliament, Erwin Kotlar.

Rivlin mentioned the song ”Prague”, saying that ”Prague`s ‘spring,’ coarsely crushed under the Red Army`s boots, was not destroyed in 1968. Vaclav Havel was considered the enemy of the Communist Regime. The clarity and power of the proud civilian voice threatened the foundations of his regime, and he was sentenced to jail. With the fall of the communist regime Havel was elected President of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.” Rivlin added that ”Havel never hid his warm relations with Israel, and one of his actions, when elected, was renewing diplomatic relations with Israel and visiting the country. There are those who say his support stemmed from political interests, from a desire to develop an independent foreign policy detached from Eastern Europe, but this is a mistake. Havel continued his support even when personally attacked by the radical left in Europe. He saw danger in the attempts to delegitimize Israel and participated in the establishment of a friendship organization with Israel.

”Israel and the entire world remember the man who always spoke in the name of the larger spirit, the things which are common to all man – values of freedom, faith, liberty, and above all, political responsibility,” completed Rivlin.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said, ”Rare are the leaders for whom the Knesset devotes a special session of remembrance. I admire Havel; in my eyes he symbolized the cultural heroes and noble souls who bravely mobilized against communist totalitarianism. In this, he belongs to the giants who challenged one of the greatest tyrannies in the history of mankind, giants who kept their mental liberty. He was committed to the values of humanism, moderate in character but uncompromising in everything connected to the principles of freedom. He paid a price for this.”

Netanyahu added that ”I was impressed by his deep identification with the suffering of the Jewish nation. In the War of Independence we fought with Czech rifles, which were to us what oxygen is to a drowning man, and we will never forget that. We followed Havel`s steps towards freedom and his actions. We felt that he represented us, as well.”

”We have no greater friend in Europe than the Czech Republic. We feel their support and saw how they stood by us in Operation Cast Lead, their opposition to the Goldstone Report`s conclusions, their unreserved support in the Marmara affair, their efforts against the Iranian dictatorship and more, as befits true friends… We are proud to be your friends. There are no greater leaders than Havel,” concluded Netanyahu.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Israel-Czech Friendship Association, MK Doron Avital (Kadima), who initiated the commemoration for Havel, said: ”Havel symbolizes more than anything else the velvet revolution, a non-violent revolution. We all remember the events of the Prague Spring. In those hard days in 1968 I saw a documentary of a group of Czech youth marching and holding a sign saying, ”Sorry Israel – you won, we lost.” The revolution was led by intellectuals ready to sit in jail for years. In this war the words of the artist, the scriptwriter, were weapons.”

Avital added, ”Criticism, and the heavy price he paid, prevented him from being awake to the problems of the liberal regimes and stressing the importance of social solidarity. Twenty-three years after the velvet revolution we see how right he was—social solidarity is the key term for the Davos Committee currently in action.”