June 3, 2013
Robert Elman and David Harris,
Distinguished President and Executive Director of the
American Jewish Committee, Dear friend, distinguished Minister of Justice and
negotiator for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Tzipi Livni,
Distinguished members and guests of the American Jewish Committee, It is with
profound sentiments of respect and friendship that I address this Assembly
today It is my honor to address great personalities of the American society who
bear weighty names. Names that are messengers of success stories. Names of
people who have played and continue to play a vital role in the economic,
scientific, cultural, social and political life of this great nation, the USA, a great friend and ally of Greece.
Greece and the USA stood together, fighting for the same values of democracy,
freedom and respect for human dignity. We owe to the United States and
President Truman the reconstruction of Greece after the Nazi occupation and our
civil war, which devastated our country. I seize this opportunity here today,
in Washington, to extend a message to our great friend and ally, the United
States of America. Despite the ups and downs, changes and shifts, in regional and
global strategic developments, Greece was, is and will always remain the most
reliable, solid and onsistent factor of stability in the whole neighborhood of
southern eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.
As recent history has proved, a stronghold of our common values, namely
democracy, peace, stability and security. Values that more than ever our world
is in need of, in these turbulent times. We also acknowledge the great
achievements of the Jewish community of the United States, when, after the
Second World War, they sheltered thousands of victims of the Nazi persecution.
A community counting among its members survivors of the Holocaust, real martyrs
of the most heinous crime ever committed in the history of mankind.They found here a new Promised Land, and they
played a crucial role in America’s greatness. I am here today representing a
nation and a people who share values and principles with the Jewish people,
inspired by our common cultural and historical background. Two ancient peoples
who, for more than 3000 years, have been meeting each other all around the
world, wherever commerce, letters, arts and
sciences develop, wherever civilizations are created. It is true to say that we
have gone through many adventures and sacrifices across the centuries.
We have resisted numerous occupations. It is in the nature
of our character and our soul. It is the power and energy of our historical gene. And it is not by
coincidence, that Greeks and Jews are among the very few of the peoples from
the distant past, who not only survived but they managed to continue their
path, they progressed, flourished and defined the destiny of the western
civilization. We share the same values of family and brotherhood. Even our
defects are the same. You have just to
take a look in our domestic politics in Greece and Israel…!!! We know how to
adapt wherever life takes us, enriching at the same time the nations and
societies we are integrating in. USA is the best example for that.
Exactly a year ago, I was invited to address this forum. Unfortunately, the early elections prevented
me from coming. Then I promised to my
good friend David Harris that I would come, but what brought me here is not the
commitment, it is my heart. I come as a messenger of friendship and solidarity.
My visit coincides with events that provoke and challenge us. And I refer to the return of the spectrum of
anti-Semitism in Europe. As if some Europeans have forgotten. This is the moment to raise our voices, to stand together and to give a definite end
to a threat that undermines the edifice
of peace and democracy, we have built all together It insults our civilization.
In last Sunday’s edition of the Greek newspaper “TO VIMA”, David Harris
stressed about the emergence of anti-Semitism in Europe:“History teaches that anti-Semitism might
start with the Jews, but finally threatens the prosperity of countries”. As you, I am sure, already know, because of
its economic problems, Greece is facing serious social challenges that have
bred political forces that disgrace our democratic and humanistic traditions. Let me state from this forum, in the most
determined and compelling manner, that Greece will never allow hate to grow and spread. Hate
will be confronted and stopped. But at
the same time, the social factors that have allowed this to happen, as in other
European countries, must be successfully addressed. Ignorance, despair, anger, disillusionwith the political system are some of them. I am certain that as the crisis passes, the haters
will pass too. We have to admit that the
economic crisis produced a very dangerous phenomenon. Alien to the democratic culture of the Greek
people. No one should ever believe that the country, which gave birth to
democracy and respect for the human being, which has become the best example of
resistance against Nazism, would ever tolerate and allow the revival of hatred
and racism. For that the guarantee is
the determination of the government and the strong will of the people.
I’m an old and good friend of the Jewish people. My memory
goes back to my very first steps in diplomacy and in politics, when I worked
for the recognition of the State of Israel and the establishment of diplomatic
relations, between Israel and Greece, when Prime Minister Samaras was Minister
for Foreign Affairs.
I recall that I was the Mayor of Athens to host the first
Yad Vashem ceremony in the Athens City Hall, as an official act back in 1995. I
was also the first Mayor of an EU capital city to officially visit Jerusalem
and sign a Protocol of cooperation, in 1999.During all these years, I was happy to see the relations between Greece
and Israel get deeper and stronger. Just two days ago, I paid an official visit
to Israel, where we prepared the very first high level meeting between our two
governments that will take place in three months from now.
It will be a great moment for our two nations. It is the fruit of concrete, coherent,
sustained and well-prepared action, expressing the strong will of the two countries
to collaborate closely together for the benefit and prosperity of our peoples.
The bonds are strong, the prospects are great, the efforts
must be hard.We have to be inspired by
the exemplary cooperation that you have achieved here in the USA with the
Greek-American and the Cypriot-American communities. Cooperation that will
inaugurate a new period and give Jewish and Greeks an even more powerful and
influential role, which will take us well into the future. It is true to say
that this development came late. But it
came at the most appropriate moment, because it is exactly now, more than ever,
that the United States, in its dynamic global role needs our legacy, our common
values, ideas, ideals and principles, to
be put to the service of our common perspective for a cohesive, democratic and
Our neighbourhood is in crisis again. The threat is
global. Secretary Kerry’s new initiative for the Middle East peace process has
our full support.
Greece, as has repeatedly done in the past, is ready to
assist and facilitate every effort for peace.
Let’s hope that reason will prevail. It is exactly in this
spirit that our bilateral relations with Israel are developing. But at the same
time, being in the same geographical area, with Cyprus in the middle, a Cyprus,
which will hopefully be united and free from foreign occupation, we adopt plans
for cooperation to develop our energy resources, aiming at the creation of a
more prosperous landscape for the whole neighborhood.
Allow me to remind
you and stress once again that such strategy is in no way hostile to any other
country of the region. On the contrary, it is only a better guarantee of peace
and prosperity for all neighbouring states.
Referring to Cyprus, I would like to remind you that the
Cyprus Federation of America and the
Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York were proud to march last
Sunday, June 2, with their members, in New York’s “Celebrate Israel Parade” and
take pride in expressing their solidarity with the people of Israel and the
Democratic values we share.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greece and Israel are the most stable and mature
democracies in the region. We are the
most democratic countries in the area. We share a passion for protecting and
advancing freedom. We are bound by the
challenges of our future to work together against terrorism and against the
factors that are making it grow. We are both unique in our regions: we are
small in number but great in history, culture, the quality of our human resources
We have the support of our Diasporas, and we now have to
build on our friendship and common interests.
Greece is still going through a hard period, and in saying
this I am not revealing anything you don’t know… But as Winston Churchill said,
“If you're going through hell, keep going”.
And then he also said that: “A pessimist sees the
difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every
And that’s how we see things in Greece. We are working
hard, through policies that we are implementing through sheer determination.
Some of them should have been applied even without a crisis: the restructuring
of the administration, privatizations, measures to open closed professions and
to facilitate business and private investment.
Others are imposed by harsh necessity. But still, things are going much better.
The impressive cuts of the deficit and the creation of a
surplus in the balance of payments expected this year give rise to great hope,
and we can see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
The sacrifices of our people will ultimately bring results
first and foremost for our people.
The World Bank recently stated that Greece is one of the
12 most improving economies in the world. Who could have imagined this, 12 months ago? A year ago, Greece was considered a safe bet
for all those who invested in doom. Now, according to the Financial Times at
least, ‘Funds bet that Greece will thrive and survive.’ The upgrading of
Greece’s credit rating by Fitch and Standard and Poors, the numerous positive
articles and statements, confirm a positive climate. The competitiveness of our
economy has drastically improved. Private and Public Funds around the world
have expressed an interest in investing in strategic projects in Greece. I
warmly invite all of you to visit and invest in Greece. Now is the moment.
We are at the beginning of a long process of regenerating
the Greek economy. We will not relent in our pace. We will continue the
application of the necessary measures, structural reforms and privatizations,
but we will also redouble our efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the more
vulnerable population groups, and especially the young unemployed.
But this early stage is also an opportunity. Opportunity is there for investors who first
spot the new trend and invest in the renewed prospects of our economy. Investors, who will, above all, appreciate the
unique comparative advantages of our country.
Geo-strategic location at the South Eastern Gateway of
Europe, Energy Reserves, the longest
coastline in the Mediterranean Region, the largest merchant fleet in he world,
ideal climate, prime culinary culture and trained human capital.
Greece has unique national wealth.We would be very glad to welcome American,
Israeli and Greek joint ventures that can be profitable in many fields,
including tourism, defense industry, agricultural projects and of course
We do not forget that during the dire times of the great
crime of the Holocaust, the Greek people protected the Jews living in Greece. Hundreds of families hid Jewish friends and
compatriots in their houses, defying any peril of their lives. We also do not
forget that after the war it was the newly created State of Israel that first
sent rescue teams to help the Greek victims of the earthquakes in Cephalonia
It is true that Jews do not forget. Last March, Greek Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras delivered an historic speech in Thessaloniki, at the largest Synagogue in
Greece. He was addressing a memorial
ceremony, marking the first deportations of Greek Jews from Nazi-occupied
Thessaloniki to the Auschwitz death camp.
And I assure you that the phrase he invoked, “Never
Again!”, is the compass of our democratic and anti-racism policy.At this point, I would like to share with you
some thoughts that came to me in Jerusalem last week, which I wrote inspired,
shocked and moved from what I lived there, after having visited the Holocaust
museum, in the visitors’ book at Yad Vashem:
monument to the martyrdom of millions, the commotion is even greater than last
time. This is because, unfortunately, the attitudes that permitted this
unspeakable crime to happen are surfacing again around the world.Man is a forgetful being. This sometimes
permits him to go on, but oblivion cannot overtake all things. Oblivion of the
martyrs, oblivion of the Holocaust, is not only unforgivable; it is a most
dangerous thing that will degrade our humanity. The horror is too much, the
honor due to the victims too great, our duty to prevent anything like this from
happening again too heavy. We shall always remember.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our peoples, as I mentioned before, have laid the
foundations of what is today Western Civilization. As Leo Strauss said, Athens and Jerusalem are
the two sources of our civilization: as he puts it: These great cities
represent the two forces—reason and revelation—that gave life to the West.” During
the critical years to come I believe along with Sir Winston Churchill again
that the Empires of the future are the empires of the mind. And in this future our great peoples have an
important role to play. And we firmly believe they should do it hand in hand. The historical friendship between Americans,
Greeks and Israelis, as I have already described, is deeply rooted. But I am certain our past is not as strong a
uniting factor as our future will be. And we will build it together.
And this new period will last and endure while our
relations will deepen, strengthen in the years and decades to come. A period of
dream and power, solidarity and unity!
Baruh ha shem.
God bless you all.Date: 5/30/2013