AHEPA Helping Build Greece, Israel, Cyprus Bridges

Cobi Bitton, CEO of the Israel-Greece Chamber of Commerce, addresses an attentive gathering hosted by AHEPA Hellas HJ-36 Icaros at the War Museum in Athens. (Photo by TNH/ C. Sirigos)

ATHENS – On January 12 AHEPA Hellas’ Chapter HJ-36 Icarus Mesogia in collaboration with the Cultural Center of Israeli Arts hosted an informative presentation titled Israel, Greece, The New Argonauts of Innovation.

The increasingly important relationship between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus was launched at the government level, but their leaders know that hopes for its deepening and blossoming into an alliance and strong friendship among the only democracies in the East Mediterranean also depends on grass roots initiatives and commercial interaction, and that challenge has been taken up by AHEPA both in the U.S. and Greece.

Kosmas Pentakalos, president of the new and rapidly growing Icaros chapter based near the Athens International Airport, introduced the featured speaker, Cobi Bitton, CEO of the Israel-Greece Chamber of Commerce.

Pentakalos also spotlighted AHEPA participation – led by Supreme President George Horiates – in the “Three-Country Leadership Mission to Israel, Cyprus, Greece” that is currently taking place, during which leading American Hellenic and Jewish groups such as AHI and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations evaluated the critical partnership between Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

On the local front, he also noted AHEPA’s cooperation with groups like the B’nai B’rith in Greece, and pointed out the great opportunities for businesses in Greece and Israel, stressing that entrepreneurs across Greece who are AHEPA members can be vital catalysts.

To build the people-to-people contacts that will undergird the friendship, symbolic gestures matter too. “One of the first thing we did as a chapter was to visit the recently vandalized Jewish cemetery to demonstrate solidarity,” Pentakalos said.

Bitton emphasized that that the economic potential is great, but that commercial relationships are cemented by visits to one another’s bases.

“The Greek business people have to shop around and say ‘we have this and this and that’ product and service, and ‘we want to do business with you’. It can’t work on a remote control basis.”

He offered valuable friendly and constructive criticism – often heard from participants in “invest in Greece” events on both sides of the Atlantic – that the Greek government and company representatives must do their homework. “They come from various industries, with no specific topic to discuss. They come over, they meet, have lunch, go home,” and nothing happens, he said.

Bitton urges his Greek contacts to come to Israel and more strongly promote what they have to sell, including, “agricultural products – especially bio-organic products – pharmaceuticals, cosmetics – Greece has very good cosmetics.”

He also believes that Greece has much more to offer than the current bases of the relatively modest 750 million euro annual trade. “That is nothing – the potential is four, five, six billion euros.”

He gave as an example, the building materials industry. “Greece’s white marble is among the best in the world,” adding that in Israel, “we are asking, we are looking for business opportunities from Greece to come towards us. We have specific needs, looking for A, B, and C” – and Greek companies can meet them.

During the lively Q&A the topic of how Greece can best manage its growing relationship with China was discussed, there being a strong Chinese investment presence in Israel.

Also offering greetings to participants was Vasilis Petrides of the Cultural Center of Israeli Arts.