Rivlin on Official Visit to New Zealand
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin officially inaugurated a new building for the Israeli embassy in the New Zealand capital of Wellington on Tuesday. The previous embassy building was closed in 2002. The ceremony took place in the presence of the speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, Dr. Lockwood Smith, who visited Israel last year, along with other top officials.
At the ceremony, Rivlin said that two countries were "opening a new page between Israel and New Zealand, leaving the past behind us. The new embassy will strengthen the bridge that we have built between the two democracies." Rivlin was referring to a near-break in diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2004 and 2005, when two Israelis were convicted of passport fraud in New Zealand. New Zealand claimed that they were Mossad agent. Israel never confirmed this, but did issue a letter of apology to New Zealand in 2005, which resolved the crisis.
In the wake of the crisis, Jewish graves in a Wellington cemetery were desecrated, with swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans spray painted on the tombstones. Anti-Israel protestors followed Rivlin as he spoke at various venues, including the local Jewish Community Center.
In his address, Smith said that Rivlin's visit “provides us with the opportunity to increase links between Kiwi and Israeli parliamentarians as part of a renewed relationship with Israel across many areas, as well as reciprocating the hospitality that Speaker Rivlin extended to me and my delegation in Israel last October.”
Meeting with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Rivlin discussed the latest developments in the Middle East, emphasizing the difficulty of advancing the negotiation process while the political situation was so fluid.
Rivlin is expected to sign a series of economic and cooperation agreements with New Zealand on the te visit. Among them is an agreement to let Israeli tourists visiting the country work for three months without requiring that they take out a work visa.