Petr Gandalovic, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the United States, has a message for American Jews: You may not know this, but his country has quietly become Israel’s closest ally in Europe.
Gandalovic, 48, a founder of the Conservative-leaning Civic Democratic Party, was in Philadelphia this week meeting with leaders of the American Jewish Committee and keynoting the May 20 opening of a traveling exhibit at Congregation Mikveh Israel.
The exhibit, sponsored by the Czech Embassy and aimed at honoring Israel’s 65th birthday, tells how Czechoslovakia defied the United Nations arms embargo and covertly sold Israel aircrafts and other arms during the nation’s War for Independence.
The relationship between Czechoslovakia and Israel soured soon after, Gandalovic said in an interview, as the Soviet Union became openly hostile to the Jewish state and the Communist bloc nations followed suit.
But Gandalovic stressed that the situation has been much different since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the subsequent division of Czechoslovakia into two countries.
In November, the Czech Republic was one of nine countries that voted against granting the Palestinians non-member observer state status at the United Nations.
The government’s embrace of Israel, he said, is “very much supported” by the majority of Czechs. Unlike neighbors such as Hungary, which has seen a rise in anti-Semitic politics, “you don’t see any anti-Semitic activity” among Czechs, he said.
Gandalovic also met with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Prior to the meeting, he said he planned to share insights from his time as a mayor of a small city in his home country.