Finland and Finns have had many contacts with Israel over the past six decades, right from the very inception of the state of Israel. Back in 1948 when Israel became independent, as many as 29 Finnish Jews left to take part in its independence war. Finland granted recognition to Israel at a relatively early stage and as a token of their gratitude the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland decided in 1948 to plant Yar Finlandia, the Finnish Forest, in Israel.
In the 1950s Finland and Israel established diplomatic relations and opened embassies both countries. Tourism, especially from Finland to Israel, took off to a quick start and the first package tour of Israel was organised for Finnish tourists already in 1954. A growing interest in Israel was also responded to in part by a Finland-Israel friendship association, chaired in the 1950s by the Speaker of Parliament, K.-A. Fagerholm.
Finnish tourism in Israel continued to grow in the 1960s and in the 1970s as many as 15,000 Finns per year made a trip to Israel, a figure that is relatively high internationally speaking in proportion to population. Travelling to Israel also assumed new forms. Under the auspices of the Karmel Association young Finns started travelling to kibbutzim already starting in 1962, several years before the rest of the world caught on to the trend. Indeed, Finnish volunteers were the first non-Jewish international groups taking part in kibbutz work.
Today, the relations between Finland and Israel cover practically all walks of life, from diplomacy and trade to cultural and scientific co-operation and tourism. Finland’s membership in the European Union (since 1995) has added an important dimension to the Finnish-Israeli relations. In addition to official contacts, numerous non-governmental organisations and individuals play a role in enhancing ties between Finns and Israelis. Annually, some 10,000 Finns visit Israel, with Jerusalem being the favourite destination.