UK chief rabbi: 'A moment to savor for all British people'

Prince Charles meets president, survivors on first-ever official visit to Israel

Rivlin welcomes future king, recalling his youth during the British Mandate period; royal plants tree as ‘symbol of hope’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prince Charles, center, meets with President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at his official residence in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)
Britain's Prince Charles, center, meets with President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at his official residence in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, met with President Reuven Rivlin as he kicked off his first-ever official visit to Israel on Thursday.

The Prince of Wales arrived in Israel on Wednesday evening to attend the World Holocaust Forum marking the 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. He is also scheduled to visit the Palestinian Authority.

His first stop on Thursday was the official Jerusalem residence of Rivlin in Jerusalem, where he planted a tree.

Rivlin thanked the prince for his attendance at the World Holocaust Forum, stressing the need to fight Jew-hatred.

“We know where anti-Semitism starts. It starts with the Jewish people. But we never know where it ends,” Rivlin said during a brief photo-op. “This gathering will show that when we are united, we can fight this ugly phenomenon,” the president added, referring to the Forum’s main event, a memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem later on Thursday, which will be attended by nearly 50 world leaders from across the globe.

Rivlin noted that his life had begun 80 years ago in Jerusalem as a citizen of the British Mandate of Palestine.

“I was born as a subject of your grandfather King George VI,” the president told the prince. “And when I was in high school, your mother became the Queen of England. I still remember these days. I still remember the day that you took down the British flag and we put on the Israeli flag after the establishment of our state in 1948.”

Israel adopted “many traditions from the British era,” including principles of the law, Rivlin said.

The president also expressed his satisfaction at the fact that after 70 years in which no senior member of the royal family came on an official visit to Israel, the unofficial boycott has apparently been lifted.

Charles himself visited Israel twice — for the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres — but never on an official visit of the crown.

Last year, Prince William — Charles’ first-born son and the second in line to the throne — was the first British royal to make an official visit to Israel.

“We’re still expecting your mother to come. I am sure she will come,” Rivlin told Charles, referring to Queen Elizabeth II.

However, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis later said that a visit by the Queen was likely not in the cards as she does not travel anymore.

Britain’s Prince Charles, center, meets with Israel President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at his official residence in Jerusalem, Thursday Jan. 23, 2020. (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)

Charles told Rivlin that he was “enormously grateful for your wonderfully kind words,” adding that he fondly remembers his previous trips to Israel.

After the press was asked to leave, the two men met privately for about 20 minutes, after which they went to the President’s Residence’s garden to plant an English oak.

“This tree planted now by the president of the State of Israel and you, Your Royal Highness, is a symbol of hope,” Mirvis said at the brief ceremony.

“It represents the laudable aspirations that the two of you have for high-quality, sustainable development throughout the world. And may the planting of this tree now inspire the sowing of seeds towards a durable peace, here in Israel and throughout the Middle East.”

Charles later met with a group of Holocaust survivors at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Britain’s Prince Charles, second right, speaks with Holocaust survivor Marta Wise, second left, and George Shefi, left, whose mother perished at Auschwitz, during a reception at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

He was also set to visit the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who is recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations for helping save a Jewish family in Greece during the Holocaust.

Britain’s Prince William visits the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg during a visit to the Mary Magdalene Church, in East Jerusalem, on June 28, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Sebastian Scheiner)

A few years ago, Charles’s father, Prince Philip, planted a tree — also an English Oak — in her honor at Yad Vashem.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Mirvis said Charles’s visit to Israel was a symbol of the strength of the ties between the two countries.”

The fact that the prince chose the occasion of the holding of the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem for his first state visit, and that the “heir to our throne is here to show his solidarity on behalf of the whole British people, with the Jewish nation at this time… is of enormous importance to the Jews of Britain,” he added.

“The British monarchy has always shown great friendship and warmth to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people, and I can personally attest to that,” the chief rabbi went on. “And we celebrate the fact that now we reached normalization in terms of state visits.”

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

Seeing Charles in Israel “will be a moment to savor for all British people,” he said.

Later on Thursday, the royal was set to deliver a speech at the Forum’s main event at Yad Vashem. Mirvis said that he had taken no part in the drafting of the prince’s address.

Britain’s Prince Charles, second right, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, second left, visit the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)

“I have no doubt that Prince Charles himself took a personal interest in the content of what is going to be saying. Because he is somebody who shows personal passion about the Holocaust,” Mirvis said.

“He has a particular connection with Holocaust survivors, which he shows again and again, though choosing to attend events that are linked to Holocaust survival. He shows enormous warmth to the Jewish people.

“I don’t know what he’s going to say, but you can take it they will be words from his heart — and not just the words that someone has put into his mouth.”

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