The Greeks and the Israelis, and where’s the botz?


Greek Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren opened a conference today on relations between the countries, sponsored by AHEPA, a Greek American defense group.

The background, of course, is the deteriorating Israel-Turkish relationship, starting with Turkey’s tough condemnation of Israel during the 2009 Gaza War and culminating in the May 31 Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged flotilla aiming to break Israel’s embargo on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of nine Turks, including one Turkish American.

Two interesting things:

–All speakers — the ambassadors and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) — spoke about the importance of developing relations domestically, as well as between the two nations. i.e., the Greek American and Jewish American communities. Jonathan Broder of CQ is pressing speakers on where such cooperation can emerge.

But I don’t see a single U.S. Jewish group in the room. (Attendance is sparse, and I found out about this by accident, almost — it wasn’t well advertised.)

–The argument — if there is an argument in the room — emerged between Kaskareils and Bilirakis.

The men didn’t confront each other, by any means — they greeted each other warmly and chatted in Greek a minute ago, standing behind me. But Bilirakis emphatically cast strengthened ties at the expense of Turkey, which he berated for not following the "rule of law."

Equally as emphatically, Kaskarelis went in the opposite direction, saying the strengthened relationship should "resolve problems … not intensify them" and "This is nothing more than two neighbors cultivating and developing a mutually beneficial relationship."

(Updated later, I’ve been on the run): Kaskarelis is a diplomat, Bilirakis is a politician; Kaskarelis is Greek, Bilirakis is Diasporas (Diasporas, never as invested in the daily exigencies of getting along with one’s neighbors, tend to be harder line.)

But Bilirakis’ outburst could also signify a Republican Party fed up with Turkey, and not just because of Israel, but dating back to Turkey’s refusal to join the Bush administration in the Iraq War in 2003. 

Oren’s remarks left controversy behind, and focused instead on the warm relations not only between the two modern states, but the two ancient peoples. I’m supposed to get a transcript, and will post it later.

Dan Arbell, Oren’s deputy, in a subsequent Q and A tended more toward the Greek ambassador’s tone. "It’s not as if we promote relations with Greece at the expense of Turkey or vice versa."

One thing missing: Greek coffee, or its Israeli bastard son, "botz" (mud.) 

Greeks teaching Israelis how to make it right: Now that would have signaled an intensification of ties.

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