Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou impressed Jewish organizational leaders here recently with warm words about his country’s ties with Israel and world Jewry.
But he appears to have disappointed them on an issue that has long concerned the Greek Jewish community and Jewish groups here: the requirement that Greek citizens must state their religion on their national identity cards.
David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, which hosted the first of two closed-door meetings with the Greek premier late last month, said Papandreou said the matter was in the hands of Parliament alone and was an interest of the Greek Orthodox Church.
But “he made it very clear that he understood our views, that we expressed a legitimate concern,” said Harris.
At the second meeting, hosted by the World Jewish Congress, Papandreou heard a suggestion that he try to arrange a meeting between Greek Orthodox Church leaders and Jewish representatives to try to resolve the problem.
The suggestion was raised by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and a WJC vice president.
That meeting was also attended by leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Anti-Defamation League, American Zionist Movement, American Jewish Congress, American Seph-ardi Federation and Rabbinical Assembly.
Another issue, discussed at the AJCommittee meeting, was a complaint by the 5,000-member Greek Jewish community that a Greek school textbook contains anti-Jewish material. Papandreou said he was aware of the matter and would look into it, said Harris.
The AJCommittee meeting was a luncheon attended by leaders of AJCommittee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias and Telemahos Hikiris, director of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Also present was Andrew Athens of Chicago, the head of the American Greek community, known as the United Hellenic American Congress, with which the AJCommittee has long ties.
By all accounts, Papandreou was optimistic about Greek-Israeli relations, which were nearly nonexistent during his earlier stint as Greek leader, which ended in 1989.
Other topics discussed were the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, the proliferation of mass weapons, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Middle East peace talks.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said they also discussed concern about the Israeli soldiers missing in action in Lebanon and ways Greece could help.