Greece, Is­rael ‘have come a long way,’ says Lauder

In in­ter­view with Kathimerini, head of World Jewish Congress hails progress in bi­lat­eral ties and warns against rise of anti-Semitism

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY TOM EL­LIS

Greece is a key player in the Mediter­ranean and the strength­en­ing of ties with Is­rael is an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment given the rise of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, ac­cord­ing to Ron­ald Lauder, pres­i­dent of the World Jewish Congress, who vis­ited Athens on the oc­ca­sion of Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day last week.

The bil­lion­aire son of Es­tee Lauder, who is also an in­vestor and art col­lec­tor who served as deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for Euro­pean and NATO pol­icy and then as am­bas­sador to Aus­tria un­der US Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, calls for co­or­di­nated ac­tion against the rise of na­tion­al­ism and anti-Semitism, stress­ing that it is a threat not just to mi­nori­ties but so­ci­ety as a whole.

Greece is a cen­tral player in the Mediter­ranean, which is the nexus be­tween Europe and the Mid­dle East. Greece is the coun­try which is very af­fected by the stream of refugees com­ing from the war in Syria, and for this rea­son it is very im­por­tant that Greece gets the sup­port it needs to cope with these prob­lems. Let me also high­light the cen­tral role Greece is play­ing in achiev­ing a set­tle­ment in Cyprus. We all hope that a diplo­matic break­through will be achieved in the months ahead. This could un­leash a pos­i­tive dy­namic when it comes to other long­stand­ing con­flicts in the re­gion.

This has been one of the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments of the past decade, and I am very happy about it. Greece and Is­rael have come a long way, and both sides have a lot to give to each other. In times of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism and other threats, it’s im­por­tant that the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices co­op­er­ate to the largest pos­si­ble ex­tent to pre­vent at­tacks to our democ­ra­cies. my visit to Athens was to mark Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day. How­ever, I do hope there is for­eign in­vest­ment that would im­prove Greece’s eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion.

The far-right par­ties in a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing Greece, are a big prob­lem. They feed on peo­ple’s fears. Some­times, they try to mask or play down their anti-Semitism, but of­ten – like in the case of Golden Dawn – they openly state their ha­tred of Jews, and of Is­rael. But there are other fac­tors: There is grow­ing anti-Semitism from Mus­lim im­mi­grants in Europe, and we also see grow­ing anti-Semitism on the in­ter­net, in main­stream news­pa­pers and even in places like the Bri­tish Labour Party. We cer­tainly see it at the United Na­tions, where Is­rael-bash­ing seems to be the UN’s first and only man­date. There is no need to be alarmist, but we are pre­pared, and we are strong.

I’m look­ing for­ward to speak­ing with the lead­ers of the Greek Jewish com­mu­nity and with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials next week about this. We cer­tainly no­tice re­ports about this is­sue in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia, but we also sense a height­ened aware­ness among Greek politi­cians that anti-Semitism at the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.

From what I heard, a lot of anti-Semitic stereo­types per­sist in Greece, but the ac­tual num­ber of anti-Jewish at­tacks is lower than in other coun­tries. The way I in­ter­pret this is that we need more ed­u­ca­tion to get rid of these stereo­types. Holo­caust re­mem­brance is also im­por­tant.

On this point, I am happy to hear that an agree­ment of un­der­stand­ing and co­op­er­a­tion [has been] signed be­tween the Greek Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Jewish Mu­seum of Greece and Yad Vashem. This is the sort of thing we need: co­op­er­a­tion.

Plus, all democrats in Greece must fight par­ties like Golden Dawn, be­cause they are dangerous in the longer term if per­mit­ted to spew their vile ha­tred – dangerous to ev­ery­body, not just to mi­nori­ties. I met with Er­do­gan a num­ber of times, and he is cer­tainly a fiery and some­times con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ter. How­ever, when it comes to speak­ing out against an­tiSemitism, he has made clear state­ments. I am also glad that diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael were re-es­tab­lished last year. There are dif­fer­ences on a num­ber of opinions, but I be­lieve these can be re­solved.

The re-es­tab­lish­ment of Turk­ish-Is­raeli re­la­tions should not be seen as detri­men­tal to Greek-Is­raeli re­la­tions. On the con­trary, I be­lieve they will con­trib­ute to the sta­bil­ity of the en­tire re­gion, which is to the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­one.

The Trump pres­i­dency will cer­tainly be dif­fer­ent from that of his pre­de­ces­sor, but un­like oth­ers, I am rather op­ti­mistic. I have known Don­ald Trump since our time at uni­ver­sity 50 years ago, and I think he will be a strong pres­i­dent. In any case, we shouldn’t pass judg­ment af­ter just one week of him be­ing in of­fice. Let’s give him a chance to im­ple­ment the things he promised to do.

Ron­ald Lauder, pres­i­dent of the World Jewish Congress, vis­ited Athens for Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day last week.

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