The executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, is seen here in a file photo.
“We couldn’t be more pleased” with the bilateral cooperation between Greece and Israel, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, tells Kathimerini in an interview, expressing equal satisfaction with the addition of Cyprus to the energy alliance and adding that this could also include Egypt at a later date.
Harris also talks about Israeli interest in investing in Greece, stressing, however, that factors such as red tape and labor laws are inhibiting progress.
The head of the AJC also expresses concern both at the results of last month’s elections in Germany, which resulted in the far-right AfD surging to third place, and that US President Donald Trump appears to be “falling into the same trap as his predecessors” in viewing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a “reliable ally.”
After your recent visits to Greece and Israel, how would you describe bilateral cooperation between the two countries?
Excellent. In so many fields, the cooperation is active, intense and growing. We couldn’t be more pleased. Our meeting with Greek Foreign Minister [Nikos Kotzias] in New York, during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, went very well. It lasted more than 90 minutes and was warm, friendly and productive. We spoke about developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greek-American relations in the Trump era, and the possibilities for further cooperation between our two communities.
How do you see the prospects of a trilateral alliance between Greece, Israel and Cyprus on the broader strategic level, as well as in the more specific area of energy?
As long-time dreamers about a strategic triangle among Cyprus, Greece and Israel – the three democratic countries of the Eastern Mediterranean – we at the American Jewish Committee are seeing the fulfillment of that vision. The regular summit meetings of the three leaders illustrate the close partnership and friendship, plus it is increasingly clear that the links are being institutionalized as pillars of the national interests of all three countries. In other words, they are no longer a function of individuals or particular political parties, but enjoy a wide base of support and are not necessarily affected by changes in governments. And these welcome developments, no doubt, will include long-term cooperation in the energy sector.
How about cooperation between Greece and Cyprus with Egypt? Could there be a wider regional framework?
Just as we believed in the Cypriot-Greek-Israeli triangle more than 30 years ago, when it seemed like a distant, if not impossible, dream, today we have another dream: that one day the triangle will grow and include Egypt and possibly other countries in the region. We have in mind as a historical precedent the European Coal and Steel Community that linked together six European countries after the war, beginning with two basic commodities, and then widened and deepened. Perhaps one day the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean will build a partnership around, say, energy and electricity. That should not be seen in economic terms alone, but also as a peace-building project linking countries and peoples together, and replacing conflict with cooperation and coexistence. Sound improbable? Perhaps, but no more so than the creation of European interdependence after World War II, ending the chance of further war between countries like France and Germany.
How serious is the possibility of building the East Med pipeline connecting Israeli and Cypriot gas fields to Greece and Europe?
We think it is serious. Of course it is a massively expensive and complex project, so decisions cannot be taken lightly or quickly, but it makes good energy and geopolitical sense.
What are the prospects of the Greek economy as seen from Washington and Wall Street?
There is still a long way to go in the Greek recovery, but our impression is that there is emerging interest in the US in exploring investment possibilities, whereas only a short time ago that was off the table. But those with whom we have spoken remain concerned not only about the general state of the economy, but also some of the structural impediments, such as bureaucracy, labor laws and the regulatory system, which further complicate any investment decisions.
What about investment interest from the Jewish American community?
Jews are no different from other potential investors. They are looking for the very same conditions on the ground – safety, security, rule of law, absence of corruption and the possibility of a healthy return on investment. For Israelis in particular, we heard there appears to be growing interest in some sectors of the Greek economy, including tourism.
Are you concerned by the unpredictable actions and rhetoric of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Very much so. We first met him as prime minister shortly after he took office in 2003. We had concerns then, much as we hoped we were wrong in our initial assessment. Our concerns, sadly, have only grown, as we have followed closely both his domestic and foreign policies. And we know that our dismay is widely shared, whether openly or behind closed doors, by many in Europe, North America, and the Arab world, who wonder about the direction he has taken in a country so important to the region and the world. We are also concerned that President Trump, by his recent words, seems to be falling into the same trap as his predecessors at the White House, including President Obama, in viewing the Turkish leader as a reliable ally of the United States and a model for the relationship between Islam and democracy. In reality, however, as recent history should have amply demonstrated, there is a wide gulf when it comes to certain key interests and values. Given President Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism, efforts at Islamicization of a traditionally secular country, and coziness with Moscow, for example, we are on very different pages. We can only hope that Washington will wake up before it’s too late and a painful reality sets in.
How did you receive the German election results?
The German election resulted in the good news for many around the world that Angela Merkel will likely lead Germany for a fourth term, suggesting a measure of stability and continuity. But it also included worrisome elements, especially the declining support for mainstream political parties such as the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), and, most notably, the surge in voting for the far-right AfD party. Clearly, many Europeans, like a number of Americans, are increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo and the institutions embodying that status quo. In the case of AfD voters, their anger was most directed at the EU/Brussels “establishment” and, no less, at the German/European handling of the controversial migration issue. Now the pressing question becomes, with 12.6 percent of the vote and representation in the Bundestag, can the AfD nonetheless be politically marginalized or not?