NEW YORK – Ted Deutch and Gus Bilirakis, Democratic and Republican Florida Congressmen, co-chair the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance (CHIA). On March 10, Greek and Cypriot-American leaders showed their appreciation and support by hosting a reception in Deutch’s honor at Noir Restaurant in Manhattan.
Sponsors Zenon Christodoulou, Philip Christopher, Andy Manatos, Mike Manatos, Nikos Mouyiaris, and Peter Papanicolaou were joined by guests including Greek Consul General George Iliopoulos and Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Dennis Mehiel, and Peter J. Pappas.
When Alliance was launched as a bipartisan caucus last year, Deutch said it “will highlight the strong relationship and growing cooperation between Israel, Greece and Cyprus…I am pleased to co-chair this caucus with my colleague Congressman Bilirakis.”
Deutch told TNH spoke about “Growing up with the Kapsalis family in Bethlehem, PA.” He noted Jane Kapsalis, who was his classmate from grade school through high school, spent afternoons in Greek school while went to Hebrew school. “She did Greek youth group and I did Jewish youth group, she went to Greece in the summer and I went to Israel – parallel lives with our families passionately committed to our cultures.”
He told TNH the affinity he felt with her family contributed to his becoming co-chair of CHIA and contributing to the recent strengthening and deepening of relations between Greece, Israel and Cyprus.
Deutch, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, mentioned shared interests in the energy and tourism areas and most importantly, their common commitment to democracy in their volatile region.
He also emphasized the importance of relations between the Diaspora communities. In his community in Boca Raton there has been talk of joint trips to the three countries and there will be an event in April at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Mark where they will discuss mutual interests and the role the people of Greece played standing up to the nazi’s in WWII, which he said is not as well-known as it should be.
“I want to share the brave stands they took with my community,” he said.
He agrees that anyone who visits Greece and Cyprus should go to Israel and vice versa. “It’s only natural.”
The gathering at Noir took the form of a warm and open discussion between the Congressman and the guests, punctuated by brief overviews of critical community issues.
Karloutsos spoke about the Patriarchate and highlighted the upcoming historic joint visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis to Jerusalem.
Christopher, founder and president of the Pancyprian Association of America and of PSEKA and Taso Zambas, Alternate President of PSEKA, addressed the situation in Cyprus and the latest round of re-unification talks that he hopes would lead to a just and lasting solution and an end to the illegal Turkish occupation of the island nation.
Recent positive signs of economic recovery in Greece were noted by Iliopoulos, and he put the campaign for structural reforms into perspective.
A number of guests noted that the bright side includes increased entrepreneurial activity, especially by young people, and rising tourism. Iliopoulos believes that by the end of the year the progress will be more evident to the people of Greece, generating more positive and hopeful attitudes.
Manatos briefed Deutch about initiatives to facilitate visas for young Greeks and Cypriots who will not only gain employment but who will pick up experiences of a merit-based economy that they will take back for the benefit of Greece and Cyprus.
Iliopoulos noted the mindsets of the critical youth segment are already changing as few still express public sector employment ambitions.