NEW YORK – The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) presented a panel discussion on Greek-Cypriot-Israeli cooperation and the deepening of relationships on both sides of the Atlantic at Cyprus House in Manhattan on April 22.
The panel, which was moderated by Nikolas Katsimpras, HALC Senior Fellow, featured David Harris, Executive Director, AJC, Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris, the author of the newly -released book, The Emergence of Israeli-Greek Cooperation, and Cyprus’ UN Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou.
Endy Zemenides, HALC’s Executive Director, addressed the guests and Michael Schmidt highlighted the AJC’s mission and joined the others in speaking of the shared values and interests between Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
Emiliou congratulated Tziampiris on his book, which was published by Springer, and said it was about the first chapter of a new period of relations among the three East Mediterranean democracies, of which more, including ties between their diasporas, remains to be written.
He said that the prospects are bright because the strengthened ties are rooted not just in the will of the elites but are based on values and cultural elements shared throughout their societies. The challenges each of the nations face from a nuclear Iran, ISIS, and other threats underscore the importance of the enhanced relationships.
The ambassador also emphasized the importance of relations’ energy dimension, which has significance for Europe’s energy independence and “which could be a catalyst for enhanced regional cooperation,” in a neighborhood that is both dangerous and full of potential.
David Harris greeted the guests with one of the best Greek accents heard from non-Greeks. Touching on the decades-long work on Greek and Jewish-American relations by the AJC and individuals like Zemenides, Harris said the former’s words sounded like he was channeling the AJC and he hopes Greeks feel the AJC’s words are just as heartening to them.
Dr. Tziampris’ book touched on the rocky start to the Greece-Israel relationship since 1948 and the limited cooperation between their diasporas despite their commonalities and personal friendships.
Harris noted “I can remember a time in the 1980s when you would not have seen a panel like this…but what you see tonight is an example of a vision that some had in each off the three diaspora communities and countries and the determination to fulfil that vision.”
“Today we speak of a strategic partnership in this triangle which is widening and deepening even as we speak and the true test of a relationship is whether it can survive transitions in government,” Harris said, echoing some of the main theoretical and practical points in Tziampiris’ book.
Having had unprecedented access to the highest levels of Greek officials, Tziampiris predicted in the book that the initiatives would survive the rise of SYRIZA – which was highly critical of many elements of them as an opposition party – and Harris provided evidence of that.
Harris had participated in an AJC meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and we were assured that it is all systems go.”
Tziampiris, professor of the International Relations and the Director of the Center for International and European Affairs of the University of Piraeus, first thanked everyone for the support he received for the book he wrote while he was a Fellow at NYU’s Remarque Institute, including the AJC, which he called “a big part of the story” of the remarkable developments that were discussed.
The multifaceted relationship has quickly become crucial the national security of Greece, Cyprus and Israel even though, it cannot be characterized as a formal alliance with definite wartime implications. It is nevertheless a great achievement Tziampiris says.
TURKEY, WHAT TURKEY?
Quoting the principle attributed to Bismarck, among others “never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied,” Tziampiris ignores the protest of officials who say the developments have nothing to do with Turkey.
The frightening gaps that that were emerging in measures of power between Greece and Turkey and the steady deterioration of relations between the latter and Israel are crucial factors.
The Mavi Marmara incident was significant as some of the most important moves followed it.
Of course, the new partnerships have bases in mutual interest independent of Turkey, but Tziampiris noted, “Just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it will happen.” Many people worked hard to make the changes in the relationships happen – and the they survived the actions speak louder than words tests. Large military exercises are continuing between Greece and Israel and continuing, and the “March of Memory” on March 15, 2015 in Thessaloniki. Greek forces are credited with helping Israel fight their devastating 2010 wildfires, Greece helped stop Gaza Flotilla II – earning Athens praise from the EU, U.S., UN and the Palestinian Authority and 400-500,000 Israeli tourists per year are now visiting Greece.
The latter is important because as relations between governments progress is it important for peoples to get to know each other,” Tziampiris said, but he added, “Energy, however, is the big elephant in the room.”
He said he cannot predict which of the oil and gas industry options that come up in discussions will become realities, but there is little doubt that without the new diplomatic climate those discussions would not have taken place.
Another test of such new states of affairs is tolerance for disagreements. Greece has made it clear that its relationships with Arab States will not be sacrificed and that support for Palestinian Statehood remains a priority. Israel has shown respect for Greece’s positions, and the latter has been scrupulous about keeping Israel informed about its initiatives, such as voting for the Palestinian Authority to join UNESCO and to gain General Assembly observer status.
“For more than a century, AJC has been the leading global Jewish advocacy organization,” according to its website and HALC’s website, hellenicleaders.com, notes is “a national network of advocates and community leaders who advance issues important to the Greek Diaspora community.”