The current dynamic relationship between the Czech Republic and the State of Israel constitutes but a last chapter of a rich story reaching back more than 1,000 years, when the first Jewish businessmen settled in today’s Czech Republic. Over the centuries, as the Jewish population in Bohemia and Moravia grew, the two peoples and their cultures found ways to live side by side, if not always together, to learn from and enrich each other. This rich and vibrant tradition came to a sudden and tragic end with the Holocaust, in which close to 90 percent of all Jews living in Bohemia and Moravia were murdered by the Nazis. The Nazi onslaught against European civilization marked a national tragedy for Czechoslovakia, one of the most liberal and prosperous European countries before the war, betrayed by its allies in the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938 and sacrificed to almost 50 years of Nazi and communist totalitarianism.
In the short interval of hope between the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, the State of Israel came into being. The role of Czechoslovakia in supplying arms to the fledging state and in training the first pilots of the Israel Air Force, including the late President Ezer Weizman, is an often-told story, was essential.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism allowed us to regain our freedom and sovereignty in the Velvet Revolution of 1989. One of the first acts of the new democratic government was to fully renew our relationship with the State of Israel and to embark on a road of friendship and co-operation, symbolized by the first visit of the President Václav Havel to the State of Israel in April 1990. The relationship has since been strngthened with intensive contacts witnessed by a number of presidential and high-level governmental visits on both sides.
The same positive trend is reflected in other spheres of life, be it culture, education, tourism, investment and especially economy. The volume of trade between the two countries grows in double digits each year and exceeded 500 mil. USD in 2007. Science and technology is the main driving force behind the economic development and strategic strength of Israel and similarly is recognized as the key component for the future success of Czech Republic, especially on the eve of its European Presidency in the first half of 2009. It is therefore is natural that both Israel and the Czech Republic are determined to seek out synergies in scientific and technological development to achieve more efficient results of joint research and development projects. Israel’s annual investments into science and technology total 4.8 % of its GNP, which leaves behind all European countries.
Support for bilateral contacts and cooperation in research, development and technology received momentum during the state visit of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek to Israel in March 2008. The Czech and Israeli prime ministers have signed a Joint Declaration reflecting a mutual interest to sign an agreement on research and development cooperation.
With so many endeavors, values and goals in common, we can confidently look forward to a further development and deepening of our ancient, and yet quite contemporary, bond. The plan to organize the Czech-Israel Technology Days in November 26-28, 2008 for the benefit of both countries is just another contribution to this effort.