Israeli President Isaac Herzog departed on Wednesday for an official two-day state visit to Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and the European Union.
Herzog is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, senior representatives of the Belgian government and the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. The Israeli president will also address the European Parliament for International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.
Prior to his flight from Israel, Herzog stressed the importance of the remembrance day.
“One of the main events on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a session of the European Parliament, which represents the nations of Europe. I will have the privilege of appearing before the Parliament and to speak for the State of Israel, the democratic, strong, nation-state of the Jewish People, which extends its hand in peace,” Herzog stated in a press release.
King Philippe of Belgium received Herzog at the Royal Palace of Brussels and welcomed his Israeli guest.
Herzog thanked the king for the “warm attitude that the kingdom attributes to its Jewish communities.”
There are about 30,000 Jews currently residing in Belgium. While the local Jewish community constitutes a tiny fraction of Belgium’s total population of 11 million, Belgian Jews have contributed disproportionately in business, culture and science.
The local Orthodox Jewish community plays an important role in the international diamond industry and has close ties with Israel's diamond sector.
In his speech at the palace, Herzog said it was important for Israel and Belgium to “deepen the friendship” and “work together to promote their common vision and values.”
Following his audience with the king, Herzog visited the local Jewish school in Brussels, Athénée Ganenou, where he was welcomed by children holding Israeli flags.
The Israeli presidency is largely devoid of political power and the president mainly serves as a unifying symbol of the Jewish state.
Domestically, Herzog recently stressed the importance of maintaining an independent justice system and freedoms in the Jewish state.
“The democratic foundations of Israel, including the justice system, and human rights and freedoms, are sacred, and we must protect them and the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence,” Herzog said.
Herzog warned that vocal domestic disagreements over the government’s proposed legal reforms in Israel could lead to an all-consuming struggle.
“I see the sides prepared and ready all along the front for an all-out confrontation over the character of the State of Israel, and I am anxious we are on the brink of an internal struggle that could consume us all,” Herzog stated.
While Herzog will address the atrocities of the Holocaust during his visit to the European Parliament, he will also address current challenges. Prior to his trip, he named the challenges posed by Iran and its terror proxies in the Middle East and beyond.
“In all of these places I will, of course, raise the enormous challenge that stands before us, in the entire Middle East, in the form of Iran rushing to nuclear weapons and operating terrorism throughout the Middle East, and supplying weapons that are used against the Ukrainian people. I will also raise the issue of the captives and the missing, who we are calling for to be immediately released from the hands of Hamas and returned to Israel,” the Israeli president stated.
The Islamist terrorist organization Hamas recently released a video of Avera Mengistu, an Israeli civilian being held hostage in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Hamas has been known to demand the release of terrorists serving time in Israeli jails in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the video of Mengistu by stating that the responsibility for Mengistu's fate rests entirely with Hamas.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.