Racism and xenophobia not the answer to Greece’s problems, AJC chief says
By Tom Ellis
“Peddling xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism is not the path to a restored and vibrant Greece,” says David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), in an interview with Kathimerini, in which he expresses concern about the growing influence of Golden Dawn, the neofascist party elected to Greek Parliament last summer.
Harris talks about the growing interest of US investors in Greece and stresses that Washington welcomes the ever-closer cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus in the area of energy.
The AJC chief also talks about Washington’s ties with Ankara and US diplomatic efforts to improve ties between Turkey and Israel, which became strained following a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed.
How do you feel about the decision by the Greek prime minister to cancel his scheduled participation at the upcoming AJC Global Forum, as he failed to also secure a meeting with US President Barack Obama?
Needless to say, we were very disappointed to receive the news, as we had been most eager to welcome Prime Minister Samaras to the AJC Global Forum. He has been a long-standing and cherished friend of AJC for over two decades, and he would have received a rousing ovation from the audience of over 1,500 attendees. That said, we fully understand the decision he took. This would be his first visit to Washington as the Greek prime minister, and it is obviously important that he also use the occasion to meet President Obama. Due to White House scheduling difficulties, regrettably, that was not possible at the time of this year’s AJC Global Forum. But even if Prime Minister Samaras is unable to join us this time, we are delighted that our good friend Foreign Minister [Dimitris] Avramopoulos will be addressing us in Washington on June 3.
Greece and the US are working on a possible visit by Samaras to Washington to meet with the president in the near future. What are the priorities in US-Greek relations?
There is much to discuss. The United States has a deep interest in a strong European Union and robust NATO. Greece is an important member of both institutions. Greece occupies a vital location in the Eastern Mediterranean, where relations with Turkey, energy development and the Arab upheaval are key factors today. All are very much on Washington’s mind as well. The challenges facing Greece – from generating foreign direct investment, to encouraging tourism, to grappling with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party – are also of deep concern to the US, and will doubtless be a significant part of the agenda. In other words, there should be no shortage of topics for the two leaders to talk about.
How do you view the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece? Do you see the danger of “contagion” resulting from the extreme austerity being implemented in Southern Europe, and how do you assess the efforts of the Greek state to deal with this phenomenon?
Anyone concerned about the health of democracy and the protection of human dignity should be profoundly worried about the Golden Dawn party. Yes, Greece is going through immensely challenging times, which perhaps makes the appeal of a populist party like the Golden Dawn, with its grossly simplistic answers to complex questions, more appealing to some. But peddling xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism are not the path to a restored and vibrant Greece. Nor is dabbling in neo-Nazi imagery, especially in a country that fought so valiantly against the invading forces of the Third Reich and suffered so terribly under Nazi occupation. Greece will reemerge as a prospering country. I am confident of that. But it will be in spite of, and not because of, the repugnant policy of the Golden Dawn Party. I am confident of that as well.
How close is the cooperation between the Jewish- and Greek-American communities, and how does it manifest itself?
The cooperation is very close. In the case of AJC, our relations with our Greek-American friends go back well over three decades. During this time, we have cooperated on many domestic and foreign issues. In fact, the relationship could well serve as a model for how two communities in the United States can build a deep reservoir of trust and pursue joint objectives collaboratively. But we all feel the irreplaceable loss earlier this year of one of the giants of the Greek-American community – and our cherished partner – Andrew Athens.
Does Washington, and Wall Street for that matter, share the view that the prospects of the Greek economy are turning around? Samaras says that Grexit is being replaced by Grecovery.
While not on Wall Street, I have been struck by the number of businessmen who tell us they are beginning to take a closer look at opportunities in Greece today. No one minimizes the existing challenges. But, in seeing the first glimmers of a turnaround, they are more closely examining the possibilities of entering the Greek market, something that might have seemed quite unthinkable to them a year or two ago.
Does the US take a positive view of the ever-closer Greek-Israeli-Cypriot cooperation in the area of energy, particularly attempts to transport gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe through Greece?
I believe it certainly does. The larger economic and geopolitical benefits of such trilateral cooperation are considerable, and that is clear to everyone with whom we have spoken in Washington.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan just met with President Obama at the White House. What is the state of relations between the US and Turkey?
The US regards Turkey as an important partner in many spheres today. We see five issues in particular that rank high on the bilateral agenda: (a) dealing with the ongoing crisis in Syria; (b) confronting the Iranian nuclear program; (c) stabilizing the situation in Iraq; (d) responding to the Arab upheaval by offering the Turkish experience in building a modern state; and (e) ensuring the energy flow westward from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.
How real and viable is the recent thaw in Israeli-Turkish relations that came about through the President Obama’s personal mediation?
It remains to be seen how much of a thaw there will be and how quickly it will unfold. But any progress is welcome, of course. Israel and Turkey, for example, both have a shared interest in ensuring that the growing chaos and bloodshed in Syria do not create still more regional instability and danger. That is one among several pressing issues for the two countries to discuss.