Rivlin: Panama's Jewish community 'one of the most important'

President Rivlin welcomes Panama's Pres. Varela to Israel.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Lorena Castillo, Panama Pres. Juan Carlos Varela, Pres. Rivlin and his wife Nechama
Lorena Castillo, Panama Pres. Juan Carlos Varela, Pres. Rivlin and his wife Nechama
Mark Neiman (GPO)

Israeli President Reuven and his wife Nechama on Wednesday morning welcomed Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela and First Lady Lorena Castillo at an official welcoming ceremony marking their state visit to Israel.

The official delegations stood for the national anthems in the courtyard of the President’s Residence, before both presidents went on to review a guard of honor. They then went made brief media statements before holding a working meeting to discuss the cooperation and partnership between the two countries.

In his remarks, Rivlin welcomed Varela and Castillo, and spoke of the situation in the south of Israel on the Gaza border.

"Every day, Israel faces the threat of terror against our people. What we have seen the last few days on our border with Gaza, reminds us again that Israel has the duty to defend our borders and our citizens. We are doing all we can to avoid casualties," he emphasized. "However Hamas sends its citizens and hides behind them while carrying out terror attacks."

"Israel will never give in to terror. We will take every step needed to defend our borders and people. I call upon the international community to stop Hamas and to bring back calm to the region."

Rivlin then spoke of the strong relations between Panama and Israel.

"Panama is a close friend to Israel; it was one of the first countries to recognize Israel. The friendship between us is based on deep common values and agendas," he said. "Panama hosts one of the most important Jewish communities in Central America, and two of Panama's presidents were actually members of the Jewish community."

"The cooperation between our countries covers many areas - from cultural exchange, through hi-tech initiatives and all the way to agricultural development."

Rivlin also noted the new flagship cooperation initiative by MASHAV, Israel’s international development agency, which is building a new center of excellence for agriculture in Panama.

"Your arrival to Israel in order to sign a free trade agreement is a huge step forward in our partnership. We welcome this important development and we are sure it will bring our relationship to an even higher level, and allow us to continue to join hands and grow together," Rivlin emphasized.

Rivlin also discussed the upcoming World Hispanic Congress due to be held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2019, inviting Varela to attend the summit.

"We in Israel, feel very honored that this Congress – that celebrates the language, literature and the culture of the Spanish-speaking world – is to be held in our capital city, Jerusalem," Rivlin said. "Allow me to extend to Your excellency an invitation, to come to Jerusalem at that time. Your presence at the World Hispanic Congress in Jerusalem would be very meaningful."

Congratulating his guest on his country’s qualification for the World Cup Finals for the first time, Rivlin added, "We are jealous, but we wish you good luck."

Thanking Rivlin for his warm welcome, Varela said, "It is a special event for us to come here at this time, just before Shavuot - the celebration of the harvest and the land that provides for the needs of the people. This is a happy coincidence because Panama and Israel work together in agriculture and we learn from Israel how to improve in this area."

"The Panama Jewish community is very important to us and they contribute significantly to the development of our country. This visit is an important opportunity for our countries to continue working together in the fields of trade, education, defense, agriculture, water, and technology. I am convinced that our bilateral relations and excellent dialogue will continue to grow in many ways out of a desire to improve the lives of our peoples."

Varela is scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on Thursday.