By Allison Kaplan (Jun. 13)
Constantine Mitsotakis, the new prime minister of Greece, and American Jewish leaders pledged their mutual support here Tuesday in a meeting that could accurately be described as a “lovefest.”
But “it was a ‘lovefest’ we’ve waited eight years to hold,” exulted Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, who enthusiastically embraced the 71-year-old Mitsotakis before Greek television cameras.
Since 1981, relations between Greece and the Jewish world had been strained over the often anti-Israel and anti-U.S. policies of former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
Papandreou’s Socialist regime angered Jews not only by withholding full diplomatic ties with Israel, but by its friendly relationship with Libya and by giving what appeared to be sympathetic treatment to terrorists.
In sharp contrast, Mitsotakis, who heads the center-right New Democracy Party, established full diplomatic relations with Israel on May 21, less than two months after taking office.
In upgrading ties with the Jewish state, “I did what I believe serves the interests of our country and serves the interest of peace in the region,” Mitsotakis said at a reception hosted by ADL.
Mitsotakis has pledged to tighten up security at Athens airport and is forming a special anti-terrorist unit.
During meetings with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress, Mitsotakis also promised not to release Mohammed Rashid, a Palestinian charged with a 1982 airline bombing.
“We will not free him. We will either try him or extradite him to the United States,” Mitsotakis told the Conference of Presidents.
JEWISH TOURISM BOYCOTT LIFTED
Mitsotakis said he hoped American Jews would come as tourists to his country, as well as participate in economic development there.
His wish received a response at the Conference of Presidents meeting, when Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress, the largest sponsor of Jewish travel, said his group would resume travel programs to Greece.
Most travel to Greece under Jewish auspices ceased in 1985, after the Papandreou government freed six Palestinians accused of terrorism.
Until last month, Greece had been the only member of the European Community without full ties with the Jewish state. During his years in the opposition, Mitsotakis had said repeatedly that he would upgrade relations with Israel when he came to power.
When he made the move last month, however, he simultaneously upgraded the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization and issued a condemnation of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mitsotakis did not elaborate on Greece’s future policies regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict or its stand on a repeal of the 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism; saying that Greece would coordinate its stand with that of the European Community as a whole.
“We Greeks are friends of both the Israeli and the Arab peoples,” he told the ADL group.