President to be invited to visit Israel, says speaker


PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins is expected to be invited to visit Israel, following his meeting this week with the speaker of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), Reuven Rivlin.

The two men held an hour-long discussion at Áras an Uachtaráin which Mr Rivlin described as tough but “very constructive”.

“He asked a lot of serious questions and we gave him the answers,” the speaker said.

He asked the President if he would like to visit Israel. “You can meet everyone in our neighbourhood,” he told him.

There would be no restriction on President Higgins meeting the president of the Palestinian National Authority Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) in the West Bank. A visit to Gaza was also possible, depending on security considerations.

The response from President Higgins was favourable. “He said he would be very honoured to receive an invitation.”

A spokesman said the President told Mr Rivlin that if an invitation were received to visit Israel, it would be considered.

Mr Rivlin said the issuing of a formal invitation was a matter for the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. “I am only second to the president.” However, if President Higgins came to Israel, he would personally invite him to address the Knesset.

Among other figures he met this week were Ceann Chomhairle Seán Barrett, who hosted the official visit; Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke; Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore; Ministers of State Lucinda Creighton and Brian Hayes; and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“It was a very important visit from our point of view. The people of Israel admire the Irish people because of Ireland’s history, sharing the same values,” Mr Rivlin said. In addition, the sixth president of Israel, Chaim Herzog (1918-97) was a native of Belfast and paid an official visit here in 1985. Mr Rivlin was accompanied this week by former cabinet minister Isaac Herzog, a son of the late president.

“Everyone looks towards Ireland as an example,” Mr Rivlin said, adding that “Israelis are in love with Irish culture, music [and] dancing.” But he added: “We are very much disappointed, from our point of view, because of the attitude of people in the Irish Government against Israel.”

There was a sizeable pro-Palestinian protest outside the Dáil on Wednesday evening. Mr Rivlin wanted to talk to the people involved but was dissuaded from doing so on security grounds.

As part of turning the tide of Irish opinion, the Ceann Chomhairle was invited to Israel last July “in order to learn what is going on”.

Mr Rivlin said that, as the Ceann Comhairle was leaving Israel, “he hugged me and said it was a really great experience”.

Asked about Israeli parliamentary regulations, Mr Rivlin said there were no special dress rules in the Knesset, eg, requiring the wearing of ties and tailored jackets.

But, he said: “You cannot come with torn jeans.”