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The Czech Republic's Response to October 7

As the war began on October 7, the Czech Republic representatives publicly declared their commitment to provide any necessary aid to Israel. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský was the first foreign dignitary in the world to visit Israel in a show of solidarity back on October 10th. Another touching display of support came from the Czech Defense Minister, Jana Černochová, in the heart of Prague, amid a protest by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Wrapped in the blue and white flag, she sang the Israeli national anthem.

Support for Israel has been voiced by the highest Czech political representation, public institutions, publicly influential personalities, and Christian churches. This is the result of the long-term cooperation that the Federation of Jewish Communities and other Jewish organizations have been nourishing.

"Together for Israel" was the name of the rally in support of Israel, organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic on November 1, 2023. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala attended the event and proclaimed: “The Czech Republic will be the voice of Israel in Europe.”

In response to the terrorist attack, the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic announced a fundraising campaign to help the families of the victims of the attack and subsequent war events. The Federation is working with core partners to support Israel and advocate for Israel’s right to defend itself. The Federation also cooperates with the Czech Union of Jewish Students to draw attention to the problem of rising anti-Semitism in Czech universities and society in general.

Many Czechs believe that backing up Israel is in their own interest as a part of protecting modern civilization against the danger of terror. Israel is perceived by many people in the Czech Republic as a country that deserves their sympathy and that Israel has a right to defend itself and bolster the security measures to protect their citizens. There is also a deep belief that Czechs and Israelis share many similarities and cultural traits.

The Czech Republic has long been known as a great ally of Israel and the roots of these attitudes run deep. Tomáš Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president, was the first head of state to visit the British Mandate of Palestine in 1927 and was well known for his sympathy toward Zionism. There are streets in Israel named after him in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, not to mention the village of Kfar Masaryk or the Masaryk Forest. Masaryk Forest was planted in northern Israel in 1930 by Czech Zionists on Masaryk's 80th birthday in recognition of his contributions to the fight against antisemitism and as an expression of thanks for his sharing of the Zionist vision.

In 1947, Czechoslovakia was one of 33 countries to vote in favor of UN Resolution 181 recommending the establishment of a Jewish state. Four days after Israel’s declaration of independence, Czechoslovakia was among the first countries to recognize the State of Israel. Czechoslovakia provided not only political but also military aid. Despite the international embargo, Czechoslovakia sold weapons to Israel, both before and after its independence. Israeli pilots as well as military technicians were trained in Czechoslovakia.

After 1948, Czechoslovakia began to adopt the Soviet approach in its relations with both Jews and Israel. Attitudes towards Israel turned into open hostility during the communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which lasted until the fall of the communist regime in November 1989. The Velvet Revolution opened a new chapter in Czechoslovak-Israeli relations. President Václav Havel expressed during his first New Year's speech in 1990 his desire to restore diplomatic relations with Israel, which had been broken off after the Six-Day War.

Czech Haven for Israeli Families: Building Safe Spaces Amidst Crisis

The Jewish community in the Czech Republic includes both Jewish citizens and Israelis who have relocated, whether temporarily or permanently. Amid the ongoing war, 60 Israeli families found solace in the Czech capital, and a few other families in other cities with active Jewish Community.

Evgeny Neimer, an Israeli residing in the Czech Republic for a decade, shed light on the situation. Getting inspired by Early Starters International (ESI), an educational humanitarian organization, he proposed creating a "safe space" for Israeli children in Prague who fled the war. ESI, founded in 2013 by Israelis Ran Cohen Harounoff and Sarah Wilner, has established 18 safe spaces for young children across Moldova, Israel, Ukraine, and Krakow, Poland.

Evgeny approached Gafna Váňová from the Lauder Jewish School and Irena Nemcová from the Jewish community in Prague, to involve the local Jewish community to help create the safe space. The school responded by allocating a gymnasium for a kindergarten serving around 20 Israeli children aged 3-6. Another facility was provided by Prague's Jewish Community for older children aged 6-9. Operated by Israeli volunteers in Prague, the facilities offer free meals, also donated by the local Jewish community, with the expectation to close by December as displaced families return home.

Reflecting on the Czech street's atmosphere, Evgeny notes widespread support, with institutions and authorities proudly displaying the Israeli flag. In contrast to other places where it is not advised to show Jewish identity, he feels secure walking the streets of the Czech Republic as a Jewish person.

Tereza: "The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic will continue to pursue and strengthen the support from the state authorities and the general public."

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