By: Pamela Fitzsimons
On February 11th, H.E Maris Selga, Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to the United States, hosted AU Students in the Embassy of Latvia for a discussion on past and present Latvian – Israeli relations. The discussion featured Ambassador Ilgvars Kļava, Director-General of the Bilateral Relations Directorate, Latvian Foreign Ministry; Ambassador Yehuda Yaakov, Senior Director at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem and AU Professor Michael Brenner, Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies. The talks were followed by a supper featuring typical Latvian dishes.
Ambassador Klava told the audience how the Jewish community was present and influential in Latvian cultural, economic and political affairs for over three centuries, since the first establishment of the Latvian Jewish community in the 17th century. Notable Latvian Jews mentioned by Klava were Mark Rothko, a famous abstract artist who was born in the city of Daugavpils, and Isser Harel, former director of Mossad, who formerly resided in the same city. It’s estimated that around 90% of the Latvian Jewish population was either killed or exiled during the Holocaust and World War II. The current Latvian Jewish community is small in comparison to the pre-World War II statistics but remains active.
When Latvia first gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Israel was one of the few countries in the world willing to provide arms to the newly independent Latvian army. Even though eventually no arms trade took place, this action signified one of trust and future cooperation between the two states. The wide-ranging diplomatic engagements featured the previous political, cultural and economic presence of the Jewish community in Latvia and the importance of security in relation to the sovereignty and stability of both Latvia and Israel, with both states having powerful and potentially hostile neighbors. Ambassador Yaakov provided an example of such a neighbor with the escalation of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in the Middle East. The mutual understanding of each state’s dark history, and their previous and current geo-political circumstances, are the key driving forces between the present and future cooperation of both states.
My name is Pamela Fitzsimons and I am a freshman from Dublin, Ireland. I am double-majoring in International Studies and Russian Studies. My hobbies include writing, reading and learning languages. I am interested in learning more about Israeli politics and the Hebrew language.