NEWS

‘Meetings such as these help prevent misunderstanding’

You are the first Israeli head of state to pay an official visit to Greece. How do you see the relationship between the two countries? I am very satisfied with my meetings at all levels: with the president, the prime minister, the parliament speaker, the leader of the opposition. They were very fruitful. I am very satisfied that on both sides – that of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition – the attitude toward Israel is very positive. They have a similar approach regarding the Hamas administration. The reception for the first state visit by a president of Israel has been very warm and I appreciate it very much. Our bilateral relations are developing very well. We signed an agreement yesterday on cooperation in the field of research and development. We have already signed five agreements over the past year in many fields – the economy, culture, politics. I hope in science too. I believe that in neighboring countries there might be differences from time to time, but such meetings could contribute to preventing misunderstanding. Human tragedy Your visit to Thessaloniki and the Holocaust Memorial is highly symbolic as a recognition of the loss of such an historically important community. The Holocaust was a great tragedy in the history of human beings. I intend to express the necessity to learn the lesson. Fifty thousand of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki were massacred by the Nazis. I know that many Greeks tried to help the Jews. The Jewish community lived in Thessaloniki for many centuries… Unfortunately, the Holocaust destroyed this community. Do you feel this is a belated honoring of these victims or has this been commemorated in past years? It’s a way to express the tragedy of the Jewish people, to mention that Thessaloniki was part of this terrible tragedy and to tell the survivors that we will not forget. Do you see Greece and Israel forging a closer partnership in the future? I hope so. Cooperation between Greece and Israel is not against any other element in the area and is to the benefit of both nations. After all, we have mutual interests, the same values, the same historical background. Both nations contributed to universal civilization. Greece has no sister state, nor has Israel. We are very close geographically. We both have a large diaspora; Greece has 11 million Greeks, we have 12 million Jews in the diaspora. If we can improve the living standards of the Greek people and the Israeli people, why not bring our relationship closer? Relations with Turkey Greeks have been watching Israel’s close relationship with Turkey for many years. Yes, the relationship between Israel and Turkey is very good. Turkey is a democratic country, a western country, and the relationship between Turkey and Israel is very necessary for the stability of this region. It is not against anyone else. It is to the benefit of both nations. We support Turkey being a member of the European Union, as Greece does. How do the Israeli people see the Greek people, knowing that Greeks have been very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? We have many Jews in Israel who originally emigrated from Greece. We love Greek music, Greek restaurants, Greek dances, Greek art, Greek poets. Every Israeli child at school learns about Athens of the fifth century BC. Homer is very famous in Israel. Athenian democracy is very well known in Israel. Every child learns that democracy started not in the United Kingdom but here in Athens 2,500 years ago. Both nations contributed to universal civilization together. Our only problem is with Panathinaikos, in basketball! We have had some differences, political differences, over many decades until the 1990s, but in the last 16 years relations have been developing very well. Today I met with (honorary New Democracy Party President Constantine) Mitsotakis, the prime minister who started diplomatic relations, who gave de jure recognition to the state of Israel. George Papandreou as foreign minister was very helpful in developing relations. The prime minister, Mr Costas Karamanlis, is very positive toward Israel as is (President Karolos Papoulias). I believe the Israeli people appreciate this very much. We are not against warm relations between Greeks and the Arab world.