The Czech Republic opened the Jerusalem office of its embassy Thursday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
“We keep our promise,” said Babis, standing in the shadow of the historic YMCA building in the Talbieh neighborhood of Jerusalem. “The Czech Republic will have a full-fledged diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem. It will deal with a lot — ranging from politics, economic cooperation, consular agenda, and other topics. It will have a permanent staff and work under the lead of our embassy in Tel Aviv.”
Babis also praised Israel’s “knowhow and experience” in fighting the coronavirus.
The Czech foreign ministry announced its plans to open the mission in December. The Czech Republic is the second European Union member state, after Hungary, to open a diplomatic mission in the city.
In May 2018, President Milos Zeman announced the beginning of a three-stage process to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The first step was the appointment of an honorary consul in Jerusalem.
The second step was the November 2018 opening of the so-called Czech House, an office space in the capital’s Cinematheque that houses companies such as CzechInvest, CzechTrade and CzechTourism. Czech diplomats conduct meetings there but the center currently does not have official diplomatic status.
As president, Zeman has limited executive power, and Babis has so far opposed transferring his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, citing EU policy, which is staunchly opposed to opening diplomatic missions in the city.
Ashkenazi called the opening “additional proof of the depth and the scope of the friendship we share with the Czech people and the Czech Republic and government.”
He also thanked the Czech prime minister and government for “leading the change in Europe toward the city of Jerusalem as a whole and toward the connection with the State of Israel.”
“The Middle East as a whole has experienced a paradigm shift… It is suitable to begin an era of peace with the recognition of truth. A historical truth that the city of Jerusalem has been for more than 3000 years the beating heart of the Jewish people and its only capital.”
“We consider this event a highly significant step, and a gesture by the Czech Republic that will further strengthen Czech-Israeli relations,” said Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who was representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In recent months, countries in different parts of the globe — Malawi, the Dominican Republic, Serbia and Kosovo — have stated their intention to open embassies in Jerusalem. So far only two embassies are operating in the city: those of the US and Guatemala.
“The Czech Republic is one of Israel’s closest allies,” said Ohana, “frequently demonstrating strong support for Israel at the United Nations, and within the European Union.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.