Samaras Tells AJC Greek-Israeli Ties Tight

 

The National Herald

 

Constantine S. Sirigos - TNH Staff

NEW YORK - Prime Minster Antonis Samaras told guests and members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) at a breakfast meeting on Sept. 30 that relations are getting closer with Israel and the battered Greek economy is on the way to recovery.

The event was hosted by Stan and Marion Bergman in their home, a high-rise apartment with spectacular vistas that impressed Samaras, whom Stan Bergman, the President of the AJC, called “A visionary we are proud to call our friend.”

Bergman set the tone for the meeting by quoting Winston Churchill on the commonalities between Greek and Jewish culture and their contributions to Western Civilization.

He also provided an overview of the decades-long ties between the AJC and the Greek and Cypriot-American community, and the evolution of relations between their homeland into to an “enduring and very strong friendship.”

The morning’s highlight was Samaras’ description of his trip next week to Israel, which he noted will have an historic government to government dimension, with high-level meetings including discussion between minsters of the two countries.

David Harris, the Executive Director of the AJC, who also addressed the gathering, seconded the historic and important nature of the trip.

Samaras said it is the next step in building a “comprehensive and strategic partnership” with great scope for cooperation in fields such as energy, a topic which was touched upon during the Q & A period that followed his speech.

Samaras said the deepening relationship of Greece and Cyprus will become a “beacon of freedom and hope” in the region, while also fostering stability and security, justice and economic growth.

He began his speech with references to the common suffering of the Christians and Jews of Greece during the Nazi occupation – 10 percent of the Christian population and virtually the entire Jewish community perished - and the efforts of the people and leadership of Greece to protect their neighbors from the holocaust.

The history of Greek and Jews fighting for human dignity constitute “blood ties,” Samaras said, and he also emphasized the “long and strong” historic ties between Greek and Jews. He also acknowledged, “There is still a long way to go.”

Focusing on current events of concern to Greeks and Jews alike, Samaras said, “There is no room for Neo-nazism in any part of the world,” a reference to the extreme-right Golden Dawn party in Greece whose leaders were rounded up and charged with heading a criminal gang.

Although there is a personal dimension to the issue – Samaras said that when his grandmother learned the Swastika was flying above the acropolis, she committed suicide – when he spoke about the recent arrests of Golden Dawn, he noted that they will be given fair trials as is proper for a democracy, and was confident the justice system will successfully handle the prosecution.

Samaras also highlighted the progress of the country’s economic restructuring, especially the creation of an attractive investment climate.

He said he was especially pleased to report that by year end Greece will have achieved its first primary surplus in 10 years, much sooner than expected, which he said will stimulate investment that will create vital new jobs.

“My office is open” Samara said, noting he has already had promising and productive meetings with the heads of corporations such as IBM. “You can help,” he said, referring to the guests and the Greek-American community, “by seeing what we are actually doing.”

This year brought a record-breaking amount of tourists to Greece - 18 million - he said, and he shared the story of a meeting he had two years ago with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised him 300,000 Israeli tourists. Samaras said he then turned to a colleague and wondered how his counterpart could do that. In fact, Samaras told the guests, 400,000 visited then, and this year there were 500,000 from Israel.

Among the areas where synergies he said exist between the two countries for economic development is agriculture. Israeli is renowned for boosting the productivity of farmland.

When Jason Isaacson, AJC Director of Government and International Affairs, brought up relations with Turkey, Samaras emphasized that Greece-Turkey relations are progressing based on a mutual interest in peace and stability as necessary for tourism and investment, but he also asserted that the deepening of Greece-Israel ties are independent of the status of Turkey-Israel relations. “Israel is not a friend because it is the enemy of my enemy,” he said.

Andy Manatos, the President of the Coordinated Efforts of Hellenes, was also invited by Bergman to speak. He worked with the late Andrew Athens of Chicago to bring the Greek and Jewish-American communities together on the basis of common values and mutual interests.

Among their endeavors was the push for Greece to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, which was accomplishing by former Prime Minster Constantine Mitsotakis when Samaras was Foreign Minister.

Harris also acknowledged the work of Manatos and other Hellenes such as Cyprus Federation of America Panicos Papanicolaou in the effort to “establish the logical triangle of Israel-Greece-Cyprus.”

He noted that during the 40 year chill in Greece-Israel relations, especially during the tenure of former premier, the late Andreas Papandreou, they were pleased to be able to find in Greece people such as Samaras, and now that he is Prime Minister, “full diplomatic relations will be realized not only in name but in promise.”