June 16, 2020 — New York
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in a wide-ranging, 30-minute conversation with American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris at the AJC Virtual Global Forum, expressed his enduring commitment to the Greek-Israel link and spoke out strongly against antisemitism.
Harris, who has known the prime minister for years and who knew his late father, Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, expressed admiration for the Greek handling of COVID-19; the country’s dramatic economic turnaround from a decade ago; the deepening partnership with the United States; and the democratic triangle of stability represented by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. He also gave a shoutout to AJC’s decades-long partnership with the Hellenic-American community.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed the bilateral relationship between Greece and Israel, saying that it “is as strong as it has ever been.” He noted that those ties, controversial in Greece when first established in 1990 — “Greece was the last country in [West] Europe to do so,” he noted — by his father, are now supported by nearly the entire Greek political spectrum.
Mitsotakis said he would be in Israel today on his first post-COVID-19 trip anywhere. A major reason for the trip “is because this relationship needs to be strengthened further,” he said, adding that he expects to reach several economic and defense agreements with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In discussing the burgeoning Eastern Mediterranean partnership among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, with key support from the United States, including the U.S. Congress, Mitsotakis warned of Turkey’s disruptive influence in the region. He said Turkey has “behaved very aggressively,” extending to migration issues, Greece’s territorial waters, the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus, and as far as Libya. The Greek leader expressed the hope that Turkey will cease its persistent violations of international law and pursue good neighborly relations.
When asked whether Greece would follow the example of Germany, which on April 30 banned all Hezbollah activities on its soil, Mitsotakis declared that Greece is “very much concerned about issues that directly affect Israel’s security.” He said he “has his doubts” about whether the European Union is right to view Hezbollah’s “political wing” as separate from its “terror wing,” and is committed to discussing the issue during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Finally, asked about the extreme political party, Golden Dawn, which had entered the Greek Parliament during the economic crisis that struck with such ferocity, Mitsotakis described it as a “personal mission” to ensure the neo-Nazi party had no political power or popularity. In the last legislative elections, in September, Golden Dawn lost all 18 of its parliamentary seats. While cautioning that “this doesn’t mean that we are completely finished with extreme-right antisemitism,” the prime minister said he is “optimistic” that Greece will never again have a neo-Nazi party in parliament. “Greece is moving away from the politics of anger and hate,” he stressed, noting that his country has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
The AJC Global Forum is the global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. Originally scheduled to take place this week in Berlin, Germany, the venue was changed to an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 7,500 people have now registered for the AJC Virtual Global Forum, June 14-18.
At the 2018 AJC Global Forum in Jerusalem, Mitsotakis accepted an AJC award honoring his late father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, the first Greek prime minister to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, in 1990.