Estonia and Israel

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Israel lipp Estonia and Israel

Estonia's Representation

Bilateral relations

(last updated: 05.11.2013)


Israel recognised the Republic of Estonia on 4 September 1991 and diplomatic relations were established on 9 January 1992.

Israel’s ambassador to Estonia Dan Ashbel presented his credentials to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 23 November 2011. The ambassador resides in Helsinki. Estonia’s ambassador to Israel from 1999-2004 was Jüri Seilenthal, from 2004-2006 Marina Kaljurand, and from 2007-2010 Aino Lepik von Wiren, who resided in Tallinn. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet opened the Estonian Embassy in Tel Aviv in November 2009. The first Estonian ambassador to reside in Israel was Tiina Intelmann, who was the ambassador from January 2011 to November 2011. Ambassador Malle Talvet-Mustonen presented her credentials to President Shimon Peres on 24 May 2012.

May 2007, the Estonian-Israeli parliamentary group was established in the Riigikogu, chaired by Igor Gräzin. In the Knesset, there is an Estonia friendship group that is chaired by Rina Frenkel.

Visits

To Israel
December 2012 Prime Minister Andrus Ansip
November 2012 Minister of Culture Rein Lang
December 2010 Delegation of the Riigikogu foreign affairs committe
June 2010 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves - state visit
November 2009 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet
January 2007 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet
November 2004 Prime Minister Juhan Parts

 

To Estonia
September 2013 Rina Frenkel, Chairwoman of Knesset’s Estonia friendship group
May 2011 Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon
August 2010 State Minister Michael Eitan
May 2007 visit of Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Jona Metzger and Deputy Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Peres to Tallinn on the occasion of the opening of the synagogue
September 2005 President Moshe Katzav - state visit
November 2001 Minister of Infrastructures Avigdor Lieberman

Foreign ministers Paet and Lieberman have met many times at various international events, most recently during the OECD 50th anniversary week in Paris in June 2011 and at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2011.

Starting from 2000,  regular political consultations have taken place between the two countries.

Agreements

  • Agreement for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments (came into force 23.05.95).
  • Agreement Concerning Co-operation in the Field of Telecommunications, Posts and Informatics (came into force 02.12.97).
  • Agreement on Cultural, Educational and Scientific Co-operation (came into force 04.08.98).
  • Executive Programme for Cultural, Scientific and Educational Co-operation for the Years 2008-2010 (came into force 08.07.08. Automatically extended every 3 years, lately in 2012).
  • Agreement Concerning the Abolition of Visa Requirements (came into force 07.10.01).

The convention between Estonia and Israel for the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income (came into force 01.01.2010)

Economic Relations

In 2012 the turnover of trade with Israel was 19.9 million euros. Export has grown compared with the previous year. Israel was 46th among Estonia’s trade partners in 2012 (48th place among export partners and 46th among import partners).

Estonian-Israeli trade from 2005-2012 (special trade, in millions EUR):

  Export Import
2005 2.6 3.4
2006 2.9 7.2
2007 2.6 8.5
2008 2.8 5.7
2009 5.8 3.6
2010 12.0 5.2
2011 12.1 8.0
2012 12.7 7.2


Main export articles in 2012:

  • Metals and metal products – 37.4%
  • Machinery and mechanical equipment – 11.8%
  • Wood and wood products – 10%
  • Paper pulp and paper products – 9.1%

Main import articles in 2012:

  • Machinery and mechanical equipment – 28.4%
  • Textile and textile articles – 23%
  • Prepared foodstuffs and beverages – 12.5%
  • Plastic and rubber products – 10.6%

Investments

According to Bank of Estonia data, as of 31 December 2012 direct investments by Israel in Estonia amounted to 5.6 million euros, which is 0.04% of all the foreign direct investments in Estonia. Most investments were made in the real estate sector, professional, research and technical activity, wholesale and retail trade, transport and inventory, and information and communications.

The total sum of Estonia’s investments in Israel as of 31 December 2012 is not published in the Bank of Estonia’s data. Estonian investments primarily went to real estate activity. 

Cultural Relations

During Prime Minister Mart Laar’s official visit to Israel in July 1993, the Agreement on Cultural, Educational and Scientific Co-operation between the two countries was signed (came into force on 4 August 1998). The agreement encourages direct contacts and co-operation; the parties invite each other to international congresses and seminars and support direct co-operation between the sports and youth organisations of the two countries.

The first implementation programme of the agreement was signed during the visit of Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves in July 1998. For the fulfilment of the agreement, a joint committee was established and charged with the preparation of bilateral co-operation programmes. The implementation programme currently in effect was last updated in 2012. Numerous exhibits, concerts and film screenings have taken place within the framework of the aforementioned programme.

Some examples of Estonian cultural events that have taken place in Israel in the past few years:

From April to May 2010 the first Estonian film festival took place in Israel. Within the framework of the festival the following Estonian films were shown in cinemas in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa with Hebrew subtitles: “Autumn Ball”, “Names in Marble”, “Class”, “Lotman’s World”, “Masters of Time”, and the documentary films “Memories Denied” and “Article 58/4”. In May 2010 Sofi Oksanen participated in an international literature festival in Jerusalem in connection with the publication of her book “Purge” in Hebrew. Prior to the state visit of President Ilves in June 2010 the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir gave concerts in Israel,performing the works of Händel and Pärt. The concerts were organised in co-operation with Israel Camerata. Mezzo-soprano Monika-Evelin Liiv has performed at the Tel Aviv Opera in Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades” during the spring 2010 season and Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” in spring 2012.

Highlights of the cultural events held in 2011 were the concert by Maarja-Liis Ilus and Jakko Maltis for members of the Estonian community in Tel Aviv in April, conductor Andres Mustonen’s concert tour in May with the Netanya Kibbutz orchestra to various places in Israel, including the Givatayimi Theatre in Tel Aviv, and the exhibit “Israeli Artists from the Baltic Republics”, which was opened with the help of the embassy. In July Johanna Vahermägi, who is studying at the Zaragoza Conservatory of Music, participated in “Voice of Music”, one of the most prestigious chamber music festivals in Israel; in September Tallinn University of Technology’s folk dance group Koidupuna participated in the folklore festival “Carnival”; in October Veiko Õunpuu’s film “The Temptation of St. Tony” was screened at the international film festival in Haifa; in December the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra performed Arvo Pärt’s work “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”. The music group Hortus Musicus has performed at the Eliat Chamber Music Festival during two separate years.

Jews in Estonia

A Jewish presence in Estonia was first recorded in 1333, but their numbers remained small until the 18th century. A permanent community began to develop in the 19th century when the Russian army first brought Jewish youths to the Tallinn garrisons, who were allowed to remain in Estonia after their military service ended. Starting in 1865 several categories of Jews—certified craftsmen, merchants of the first guild, and people with higher education— were allowed to reside on Estonia’s territory. As the community grew the first congregations were formed and places of worship, graveyards, aid funds, and cultural societies were built up. A grand synagogue was built in Tallinn in 1886 and another was built in Tartu in 1903 (both were destroyed in 1944). In 1913 a total of 4 995 Jews lived within Estonia’s borders. At that time the centre of the Jewish community was Tartu, as many Jewish students from various parts of the Russian empire were studying at the university there. Organisations with both Zionist and socialist leanings also formed there.

The creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918 marked the beginning of a new era for the Jews. Approximately 200 Jews fought in combat for the creation of the Republic of Estonia. Previously the local Jews had been just a small fragment of the 5 million strong Jewish population of the Russian empire, but now they became the Estonian Jewish community and were citizens with equal rights. In 1926 the Estonian government became the first in the world to grant cultural autonomy to Jews (this act was added to the Golden Book of Jerusalem in 1927). The number of Jewish organisations increased rapidly: a Jewish upper secondary school was founded in Tallinn, as were a secondary school in Tartu and an elementary school in Valga. A Jewish kindergarten as well as sports clubs, drama groups, libraries, and other clubs were formed. In 1939 there were a total of 32 different Jewish organisations active in Estonia.

The Soviet occupation that began in 1940 put an end to cultural autonomy for Jews. On 14 June 1941 nearly 10% of Estonia’s Jewish population was deported to Siberia by the Soviet authorities. Many Jews had already fled to Russia, fearing invasion by the Germans. During the course of the German occupation (1941-1944) nearly all the Jews remaining in Estonia perished.

During the Soviet occupation that followed the Second World War, preserving the Jewish identity became extremely complicated. Organized and cultural activities came to complete halt. However, many Jews from other parts of the Soviet Union moved to Estonia, seeking refuge from the anti-semitism prevalent in their home areas. In Estonia the situation was somewhat more open and opportunities for education were better.

When Estonia regained its independence the situation changed. In 1988 Trivimi Velliste, the chairman of the Estonian Heritage Society, initiated the creation of the Jewish Cultural Society.

In 1992 the Jewish Cultural Society was re-organised, and as a result of this process the Estonian Jewish Community was established. In 1990 the Jewish School in Tallinn was re-opened and in 2000 so was the synagogue, which initially functioned in the same building as the school.  Thanks to generous donations, in May 2007 a new synagogue building was opened in Tallinn.

An Estonian Jewish Museum opened in Tallinn in December 2008. The museum documents the life of Estonian Jews from the 19th century to the present and gives an overview of the important part Jews have played in Estonia’s cultural life, business and science.

There are currently about 2 000 Jews living in Estonia.

You can read more about Jews in Estonia here:

http://estonia.eu/about-estonia/society/the-jewish-community-in-estonia.html

http://www.ejc.ee/

The Holocaust in Estonia, remembrance and research

The Estonian History Museum just restored the Klooga Holocaust Memorial. The opening of the renovated memorial took place on 16 September 2013. President of the Riigikogu Ene Ergma, Minister of Culture Rein Lang, and Member of Israel’s Knesset Rina Frenkel participated in the opening. The opening of the memorial was followed by a Holocaust-themed roundtable organized by the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute.

During the German occupation, the Nazis murdered close to a thousand local Jews on Estonian territory – those who had not yet managed, were not able or did not wish to flee from the occupation to the Soviet Union. In addition, nearly 12 500 Jews from other European countries occupied by Nazi Germany were brought to Estonia, of whom 7500 to 8000 died or were killed here. The rest were evacuated from Estonia and in September 1944, when the Red Army once again occupied Estonia, it found only the few hundred survivors in the Klooga camp.

On the initiative of President Lennart Meri, the International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity was created in 1998. The commission, which was chaired by the internationally respected retired Finnish diplomat Max Jacobson, was summoned together by Lennart Meri and consisted of Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Paul Goble, Nicholas Lane, Peter Reddaway, Arseny Roginsky, and Baron Wolfgang von Stetten. The goal of the commission was to investigate the crimes against humanity that were committed on the territory of the Republic of Estonia during the Nazi and Soviet occupations.

In its conclusions, the commission wrote that the general responsibility for most, though not all, of the criminal episodes addressed in the report fell on the German military and civilian occupation authorities. This was established during the Nuremberg trials and has been confirmed through many other connections. Another goal of the commission was to confirm the identities of the Estonians that are responsible for crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes as a result of their official positions or activities. The results of the commission’s investigations are available to the public at www.historycommission.ee. The Max Jakobson Commission completed its work in 2008; related work is being continued by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

Estonia has repeatedly and on a high level condemned the crimes committed against the Jewish people on occupied Estonian territory by foreign powers as well as local collaborators.

On 27 January 2003, Estonia observed Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2012, a Gallery of Memory was opened in the Estonian Jewish Community Centre that bears the names of the 974 Estonian Jews that were murdered on Estonia’s territory during World War II. The sites of the detention and execution of Jews in Tallinn, Klooga, Kalevi-Liiva, Vaivara, Ereda, Kiviõli, and elsewhere in Estonia have been designated with memorial markers.

The Estonian History Museum just restored the Klooga Holocaust Memorial. The opening of the renovated memorial took place on 16 September 2013. President of the Riigikogu Ene Ergma, Minister of Culture Rein Lang, and Member of Israel’s Knesset Rina Frenkel participated in the opening. The opening of the memorial was followed by a Holocaust-themed roundtable organized by the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute.

In 1993 the Estonian History Museum gave the Yad Vashem Centre in Jerusalem a collection of items and photographs that had belonged to the Jews killed in the Klooga concentration camp. In March of 2005, then-Minister of Education and Research Toivo Maimets participated in the opening of a new permanent exhibit at Yad Vashem, as a significant part of the exhibit is made up of the items and photos from Klooga. In response to an invitation to participate in the opening ceremony of the Klooga Holocaust Memorial in September 2013, the president of Yad Vashem, Ayner Shalev, responded with a letter to Minister of Culture Rein Lang in which he expressed his thanks for Estonia’s erstwhile contribution to Yad Vashem’s exposition. On the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, a tree has been planted in the memory of Estonian theologian, poet and philosopher Uku Masing and his wife Eha. The Masings concealed a Jewish student in their home during the German occupation, saving the student’s life.

Estonia is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which has the goal of gaining the support of political leaders and social movements for Holocaust education and the commemoration and study of the Holocaust on both the national and international level.

In Estonian schools, the Holocaust is addressed in connection with the events of World War II. The subject is taught in grades five and nine and is addressed in more detail in secondary school, primarily in the 12th grade.

Estonian teachers regularly participate in courses on Jewish history and the Holocaust in the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies. The project is funded by the Estonian government and Yad Vashem. The most recent course took place in July 2012. The programme includes an overview of Jewish culture, history, Zionism, Nazism, Judaism in past eras, the life of contemporary Jews before the Holocaust, the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and Europe, and tips for how to address the topic of the Holocaust in school lessons.

Restitution of the property of Jews

No issues regarding property exist between the Jewish community and Estonia. During his visit to Israel in July 1998, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves met with deputy chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation Naphtali Lavie, who gave the Republic of Estonia the following official assessment by the organisation: Estonia is the only country in Eastern Europe to which the WJRO makes no demands.