Israel’s first envoy to Moscow since the 1967 Six-Day War got a warm farewell from Russian Jews at a gala event held here Saturday evening.
Aryeh Levin, who will return to Israel in about two weeks as his tour of duty ends, spoke emotionally about the changes he witnessed in relations between Moscow and Jerusalem during his four-year stint.
In a speech to well-wishers who packed the Central House of Artists, he recalled his arrival, when “the Soviets treated me as the head of something called the Israeli Group of Diplomats,” then operating under the aegis of the Dutch Embassy.
He remembered January 1991, when he was reclassified as consul-general, as the Israeli representation was upgraded, and last October, when “I finally became an ambassador.”
Israel restored full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union on Oct. 18, 1991. But before Levin could present his credentials to the head of state, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, and Levin became ambassador to Russia.
Levin, 61, is a career diplomat born to Russian Jewish parents in Teheran, Iran. He previously served as Israel’s U.N. representative in New York and was also an envoy in Africa and Iran.
Present at the dinner was Levin’s wife, Aliza, who for the past four years has overseen the envoy’s official receptions and dinners. Also in attendance was Israeli poet Yakov Gorland, who left his native Ukraine in 1921 at the age of 7, and well-known local Jewish artists, such as playwright Grigory Goren and comedian Zinovy Gert.
Goren reflected on the reluctance of many Jews here to make aliyah, despite their deep emotional attachment to Israel. “Like some, I’ve applied for the permanent right to visit Israel frequently,” the playwright said.
Levin is being replaced by a well-known Israeli, Gen. Haim Bar-Lev, who was Israel Defense Force chief of staff from 1968 to 1972 and commander of the Egyptian front during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. His name is particularly associated with a line of defensive strongholds along the Suez Canal that was more heavily reinforced during his tenure as chief of staff.
The former Haim Zaslavsky, born in 1924 in Vienna, came to Palestine in 1939 and served in the Palmach between 1942 and 1948 and was commander of Israel’s armored units on the Egyptian front during the War of Independence.
A Labor member of Knesset since 1977, he served in the coalition governments of the 1980s as Labor’s secretary-general and as minister of police. He was an early endorser of Israel’s Peace Now movement and has advocated territorial compromise.