It’s February 2019 and there is a lot of commotion at the favorite haunt of Washington’s political establishment. Another incendiary statement by then president Donald Trump has just caused the familiar political and journalistic frenzy. I remember standing groups of senators huddling in front of the restaurant’s large television screens to better hear what had happened.
At a dark table a little further in, a small group of people is paying absolutely no attention. Endy Zemenides, the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), has his head lowered and is busy writing on an almost used napkin with a pen borrowed from the waiters.
He is trying to explain exactly how Senator Bob Menendez, the chair of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, envisions the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act (EastMed Act). Arrows, scribbles, parentheses and predictions of a bill, which 10 months later would officially place Greece at the center of American strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I still have that battered napkin with the broad strokes of a huge journalistic scoop to remind me of the first major vindication of the concerted efforts of the Greek lobby: The EastMed Act.
The recent passing by the US House of Representatives of an amendment sponsored by Representative Chris Pappas posing conditions to the sale of F-16 fighters and upgrade kits to Turkey was the latest in a string of successes for the Greek lobby in Washington.
The Greek-American lobby has operated with renewed energy since the successful passing of the EastMed Act in 2019.
This was followed by several successes, including the US-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act, the 3+1 regional alliance scheme (Cyprus, Greece, Israel plus the US), the expulsion of Turkey from the F-35 advanced fighter jet program, the efforts to impose a CAATSA regime, the partial repeal of the arms embargo to Cyprus, the “No Jets for Turkey” campaign, and several other initiatives and efforts that did not always make it to the front page.
It was the same strategy and persistence of these people and their allies that resulted in the passing of the amendment put forward by Pappas.
However, this dynamic was not set in motion in 2019. Businessman Nikos Mouyiaris had injected new energy into efforts to promote Greek issues on the US political scene by founding an organization that “would be different.” HALC was added to the historic names such as the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and Manatos. More people started working towards the same goal, the agenda was expanded and the bar was raised. The Eastern Mediterranean, with all its peculiarities, became more interesting to the legislators and Congress began keeping a close eye on developments in the region.
With the consistent support and guidance of Menendez, Greek-American members of Congress, allies in key posts in the corridors of power in Washington, important businessmen who prefer to keep their names out of the press, as well as close collaboration with other Greek-American organizations, it did not take long for HALC to establish itself as an important instrument in promoting Greek and Cypriot interests in Washington.
Turkey’s image in the United States has taken a hit lately and, to be clear, while the Greek-American lobby is currently more active and more sophisticated in its approach to lobbying, this has been the result of Turkey’s own choices and errors in judgment that have alienated important players in the US, such as the Jewish lobby and that of the United Arab Emirates.
This is obvious in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. The pro-Jewish lobby used to be on Turkey’s side on this issue and, together with certain elements within the State Department had helped to block the issue. No longer. Congress recognized the genocide as such in 2021 and this is considered the Turkish lobby’s greatest defeat.
A diverse alliance
Turkey has not helped its case with moves such as the acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system, which directly cost it access to the advanced F-35 fighter, parts of which it would also co-produce.
The Greek lobby was quick to detect the change in Israeli and Jewish-American attitudes toward Turkey. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) founded in 2012 the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance (CHIA), which they still co-chair, and Deutch is poised to take over, in October, as CEO of the powerful American Jewish Committee.
This was the start of the Greek-American lobby’s alliance formation, which includes disparate elements – like Christian Evangelists, Kurds, even Indians – all with problems with Turkey.