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Queen fetes Israeli leader on historic visit to England

LONDON, March 3 (JTA) — Israeli President Ezer Weizman was feted by the Queen of England during a historic visit last week. Weizman, who once served in the Royal Air Force at Cranwell, became the first Israeli head of state to make an official visit to England. At a kosher banquet at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II paid tribute to the “close and vital relationship” between Israel and the United Kingdom. “Our trade links are strong and expanding,” she said. “In the arts, and in the world of science and technology, ideas and experiences are exchanged. British tourists flock to your beaches and to your heritage sites. Israeli visitors throng our theaters and our shops.” The queen commended Weizman for his personal contribution to the quest for peace as “unstinting, steadfast and greatly admired by his British friends.” During his visit, the Israeli president also met with Prime Minister John Major, opposition leader Tony Blair and other British officials, as well as with members of the Jewish community. Together with the queen and visiting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Weizman attended the unveiling of a memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of more than 20,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. But Weizman’s visit was not without some controversy. Weizman defended Israel’s decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem, an action that has come under intense criticism by a Jewish member of British government, Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. The decision to build at Har Homa was announced while Weizman was in London. In a separate development, Jewish protesters outside a Weizman news conference pressed their campaign for the release of Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear technician jailed for selling classified material from one of Israel’s nuclear plants. Vanunu was apprehended in 1986 after he leaked the information to a British newspaper. He was sentenced in 1988 to serve 18 years in prison.