|Greek news agency interviews David Harris|
Athens Macedonian News
January 22, 2013
Executive Director David Harris was interviewed by AMNA, a leading Greek news agency,
on the eve of this week’s AJC delegation visit to Greece. English translation
What is the purpose of your visit to Greece?
AJC has been traveling to Greece for decades, where we have many friends in
government, civil society, the church and, of course, the Jewish community.
More recently, since the advent of this dramatic economic crisis, we have been
coming still more frequently. We want to show by our presence our ongoing
concern and solidarity. We also want to be in a better position on our return
from each visit, through AJC’s offices in New York, Washington, Berlin,
Brussels and elsewhere, to help encourage greater understanding and support for
What is the level of Greek – Israeli relations today?
In recent years, Greek-Israeli bilateral relations have improved dramatically.
In a very real sense, this should come as little surprise. After all, both
countries share many things in common. They are ancient civilizations, each of
which has contributed profoundly to human development, as the legendary Winston
Churchill, a friend to both Greeks and Jews, famously noted. They are both
robust democracies. They share an interest in the relationship between
“homeland” and “diaspora.” They are both surrounded by the dramatic events in
the eastern Mediterranean, which underscore common political and strategic
interests. And the opportunities for still closer cooperation in such areas as
energy, tourism, education, culture, and research and development are
With what activities is the cooperation of Greek and Jewish organizations in
the United States being realized?
For one thing, it is not by accident that our AJC group in Greece is joined by
two noted Greek-American leaders. In fact, this has frequently been the format
for our visits to Greece. AJC and the Greek-American organizations have long
cooperated, both in the United States and with regard to Greece and Israel. And
we have joined together this time to make a humanitarian contribution to Doctors
Without Borders – Greece, as a tangible gesture of our desire to help Greek
society grapple with the issues it confronts, including available medical care
for all in need. And this week, in Boston, AJC and the Greek Orthodox
Metropolis are hosting a major program to celebrate our friendship in the
United States and our respective links to Israel and Greece.
Is Greece's approach towards Israel really long-term or is it a consequence of
the coolness in Israeli – Turkish relations?
The deepening links between Greece and Israel are driven, above all, by the
highest national interests of each country, and not by any third-country
factor. Until 1990, Greece had quite frosty relations with Israel, which was
most regrettable, but all that has changed in the past two decades – and to the
obvious benefit of both countries.
the Greek side, there is the impression in certain circles that Greece is
choosing Israel as opposed to the Arab World with which it has traditional
friendly relations. Do you agree?
impression is that Greece seeks friendly relations with both Israel and Arab
countries. This is entirely understandable and can contribute to the region’s
development. Given Greece’s location, historical interests, and economic
concerns, why should it not seek warm ties with a range of countries, even as
there is always a special quality to the links forged between truly democratic
nations? But what no democratic country should do – but too often was the case
in the past – is to fall into the trap of believing that to have strong
relations with the Arab world, there must be little to no contact with Israel.
Experience has long shown that such a zero-sum equation is wrong-headed and
Do you believe that energy cooperation between Cyprus – Israel – Greece has a
Absolutely. I am optimistic about the prospects for trilateral energy
cooperation among Cyprus, Greece and Israel. Indeed, I believe it to be a
regional game-changer, having major strategic and economic implications for all
three countries – and beyond.
economic crisis in the Eurozone has been accompanied by the rise of extreme
right-wing parties in several European countries, including Greece with the
Golden Dawn.Are you concerned about
certainly. The troubling rise of extreme right-wing parties in such countries
as Greece and Hungary threatens the social fabric of democracies. No one should
be under any illusion. The attempted targeting or scapegoating of minority
communities, by virtue of their religion, skin color or country of origin, for
the larger ills of society is at its core an assault on democratic society
itself. Such parties offer the temptation to believe they have all the answers,
whether to high unemployment, shrinking paychecks, crime or migration. In
reality, they do not. Simplistic answers may seem alluring to some, but they do
not offer a serious and successful way out of the current challenges, far from
it. Surely, history can serve as an illuminating and sobering guide here.
role does Israel want to play in the region in an environment of tension on the
one hand, and of a democratic "awakening" of Arab nations in the
framework of the so called Arab Spring on the other?
can change many things for the better – agriculture, medical technology, water
management, communications systems – but it cannot change its basic geography.
The Arab world is experiencing seismic upheaval that will likely go on for
years, if not much longer. During this extended – and uncertain – period,
Israel will have to be especially alert, both to the opportunities that might
emerge and, yes, to the dangers, which are very real.
What is your evaluation of the political situation in Egypt?
The jury is still out on where the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood and
the Salafists will lead the country. Because of Egypt’s size and prominence,
its future direction is immensely significant. Watching how the current
political leadership deals with such issues as the 1979 peace treaty with
Israel, the Coptic Christian minority, freedom of the press, and women’s rights
will be revealing barometers of where the country is headed. One unfortunate
sign came with the revelation of President Morsi’s virulently anti-Semitic
comments three years ago, while he was still a Muslim Brotherhood leader. We
can only hope that, as president, he will distance himself from those repulsive
new leadership of the Department of Defense in the U.S. was not received with
enthusiasm in Israel, given the positions the new appointee for Secretary of
Defense, Chuck Hagel, has expressed about Iran.How do you see this difficult situation with Iran developing?
is the number-one foreign policy challenge for the West, and not just the
United States or Israel. The notion of this Iranian regime, with its messianic
worldview, its regional aspirations, and its global support for terrorism,
having access to a nuclear weapon is terrifying. Among other things, it might
well trigger a dangerous new nuclear arms race practically at Greece’s
doorstep. It is the stated policy of the United States and the European Union
to prevent Iran from reaching that point. This will test our collective will
and resolve. We all hope for a peaceful outcome, but, if there is any such
chance, it must be accompanied by a determination to keep upping the economic
price for Iran’s defiance of the international community, greater political
isolation, and a credible military option to convince the Iranians that we are
the period of U.S. elections, we have seen President Obama and Prime Minister
Netanyahu trading barbs, especially with regard to Israel's handling of the
peace process.Do you believe their
relations are experiencing a crisis?
I do not believe there is a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. To the contrary,
bilateral ties are as strong and robust as they have ever been, especially in
such as areas as strategic cooperation, intelligence sharing, homeland
security, economic links and political consultation. Are there areas of
difference? Yes, but, viewed from a historical context, every U.S.
administration and every Israeli government have on occasion had divergences,
sometimes big, sometimes small. No two countries, no matter how friendly, have
identical interests. But the foundation of the relationship is rock-solid.
There is no more pro-Israel country in the world than America, and there is no
more pro-America country in the world than Israel. As one top American official
told me in Washington the other day, “If there were no Israel, we’d have to
create it. America has no better and more reliable friend in the region.”
Many analysts believe that a courageous move by Israel is necessary to provide
a push to the Palestinian problem, which is considered the focal point of
tension in the Middle East. Your view, please.
By now, it should be abundantly clear that the Palestinian problem is not “the
focal point of tension in the Middle East.” What is happening in Syria, Egypt,
Iran and elsewhere, in the Sunni-Shiite rivalry, and in the struggle for true
democracy, the rule of law, minority rights and women’s equality, all have
nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. That said, of course, an enduring
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on a two-state agreement,
remains an essential goal. Four consecutive Israeli prime ministers, including
Benjamin Netanyahu, have all called for just such an accord, but to no avail.
The Israeli public, in poll after poll, supports a two-state deal, even as it
does not see a comparable willingness on the other side. It is high time for
friends of the peace process to open their eyes and understand that pressuring
Israel while coddling the Palestinians, and overlooking all the obstacles they
have created, is not a formula for progress. If the Palestinians are to have a
state of their own alongside Israel (and Jordan), then it is high time to
expect of them political maturity and accountability, including a willingness
to meet Israel half-way.
How do you see the situation developing in Syria given the disagreement between
large powers to jointly act in the UN Security Council, which gives the Assad
regime time while bloodshed is continuing in the country?
What can I say about President Assad’s Syria that has not already been
said?More than 60,000 fatalities,
countless more driven from their homes, brutality on a scale rarely seen even
for a world that has witnessed its share of tragedy, and an opposition that now
contains increasingly strong jihadist elements. Meanwhile, thanks to Russia and
China, the UN Security Council has been deadlocked, relegated to issuing little
more than meaningless statements. Of great concern is Syria’s vast arsenal of
biological and chemical weapons, and what will happen to it in all the tumult.
Let’s also remember who is helping the Assad regime – most immediately, Iran
and Hezbollah. Yes, this is the very same Hezbollah that the European Union has
inexplicably failed to add to its terrorism list so far. Finally, it is
important to recall that Syria shares a border with Israel, which is yet
another reminder of the very real security challenges – and the current make-up
of some of its neighbors – that Israel faces in its turbulent neighborhood.