Israeli President Shimon Peres welcomed his Bulgarian counterpart Rosen Plevneliev in an official ceremony at the start of his two-day state visit to Israel Monday, as he called Bulgaria “a true friend of Israel” and the Jews.
In the Bulgarian leader’s first official visit to Israel since taking office in January, shortly before a terror attack on Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian town of Burgas claimed the lives of six - five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian bus driver- and left more than 30 injured in July, Peres thanked him, “your people and the government of Bulgaria for the support and aid that you gave the injured”, as well as pledging its diplomatic allegiance to the Jewish State in the aftermath of the attack.
Paying tribute to the success of Balkan States in putting aside their regional disputes to bring peace and stability to the entire region, he added: "I see the Balkan case and am encouraged - just as the Balkans underwent positive change, so we all can act for a better future for the Middle East."
According to a statement from Peres’ office, Plevneliev told the Israeli statesman at his official residence in Jerusalem it was an honour for him to be able to visit Israel at the earliest available opportunity since his election earlier this year, describing it as a “wonderful country”.
Having relayed his hopes for mutual cooperation between the two countries, with trade currently standing at $360 million having risen from $50 million ten years ago, across the fields of economics, culture, tourism and technology, Peres responded: “Israel's doors are open to cooperation with Bulgaria. We would be glad to deepen and expand cooperation in a range of fields including hi-tech, tourism, economics and technology.”
Peres also paid tribute to Bulgaria’s WWII record in helping to save the lives of its Jewish community from the Nazis.
Despite the Bulgarian parliament approving the 1941 Law for the Protection of the Nation, which prevented Bulgarian Jews from running for political office, voting, or marrying ethnic Bulgarians, as well as limiting the numbers of Jews eligible to attend Bulgarian universities, unlike other Nazi allies, Bulgaria protected its 48,000-strong Jewish community in its entirety from the threat of deportation to concentration camps or murder by the Nazis.
Instead the Bulgarian government told the Germans the Jews were to be employed in working for the Bulgarian war effort.
“Bulgaria will always have a special place in the hearts of Israelis for its refusal to give up its Jews to the Nazis in WWII,” Peres said.
Plevneliev invited his Israeli counterpart to be Bulgaria's guest of honor in Sofia next March when Bulgaria commemorates the 70th anniversary of the rescue of its Jewish population.
Following the rise of communism, the vast majority of Bulgaria’s Jews left for Israel, with the current community totalling little more than 1,000. According to Israeli government records, approximately 44,000 Bulgarians emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 2006, the fourth highest figure from any European country.
Peres was due to host the Bulgarian President at a state dinner at his home Monday night, where both statesmen were scheduled to give addresses to assembled dignitaries from across the political, diplomatic and economic, academic and cultural worlds.
The Bulgarian President, who is accompanied by Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov, leader also met with Israeli Foreign Minister who expressed concern over the potential spread of the violence in Syria, and later with the Speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Reuven Rivlin.
Lieberman pointed to the recent terrorist plot foiled by the Jordanians and assassination and bombings in Lebanon as proof that the Syrian conflict might very well be spreading to other countries in the region.