Getting back in touch with a long-lost friend

The three-day visit of Israeli President Simon Peres to Greece this week added one more page in what appears to be a new chapter of bilateral ties between the two nations.

The tectonic shifts in the Eastern Mediterranean region are mostly determined by geopolitical and energy-related factors. However, in the case of Greece?s ties with Israel, the transformation runs deeper than the political, economic and military equilibrium in the broader region.

In the cultural domain, for example, there is ample room for change. The psychological distance between the two peoples (which is a result of old wounds and the peculiarities of Middle East foreign policy) has long prevented the cultivation of warm ties.

That said, the ground for closer ties is fertile. The Israelis are no doubt fond of Greece. Any Greek who has visited in Israel even for a day has witnessed an unconditional affection that turns into adoration when it comes to Greek music and singers. Surprisingly, decades of pro-Arab foreign policy in Athens have not had an effect on the feelings of ordinary Israelis.

In Greece things are more complicated. The climate of mistrust and stereotypes cannot change overnight. At the same time, there has been significant progress in terms of the scientific study and historical restoration of Greek Jews.

But, like we said, the room for progress is endless. There is music, there is dance (the Kalamata festival introduced Greeks to Israel?s dynamic dance scene) and there is history; history that is not a source of misunderstanding and embarrassment.

Although most of Thessaloniki?s Jewish legacy has been erased, the city still attracts thousands of Jewish visitors every year. Thankfully, city Mayor Yiannis Boutaris seems to acknowledge the legacy, and how this can be put to use — a key step toward rebuilding the bridges.

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