Israelis and Greeks have a common destiny. Two nations that have throughout history exerted an influence far beyond the boundaries of their respective states. Two sibling civilizations, each of which has played a unique role in the international arena. Two resourceful peoples who have earned global admiration and have excelled, particularly as individuals, in every part of the world they have lived in. Two states that underwent renewal in different historical moments, both of them within fragile, unstable regions. Greece and Israel share many parallels which provide numerous opportunities to learn from each other and underscore the value of a comprehensive strategic relationship between them.
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Israel was hit by an economic crisis many years before Greece was. Israel transformed the difficulties it faced into opportunities. It did this while challenged by war, facing asymmetrical threats and enduring extraordinary solitude in a region characterized by instability and religious radicalism. Israel secured its own future by investing where it was needed: in modern defense systems, water resources, healthcare, energy efficiency and the agricultural sector. Solitude and hardship shaped the identity of Israeli citizens, molding them into fighters who have demonstrated boldness, insight and ultimately creativity. Israelis succeeded because they relied on themselves, loved their country, galvanized their supporters in communities worldwide and drew inspiration from the strength of their national culture.
The Greek people have also had their share of hardships in the last few generations -- whether due to Turkey or to fascism during World War II -- and they have paid a high price in human life and in material resources. As it faces its greatest crisis in its post-war history, Greece would do well to emulate Israel’s success. No one in Europe seems to recognize the burden that the birthplace of democracy is shouldering. Ninety percent of illegal immigrants in the European Union arrive through Greece. The lenders who have provided financial support for Greece in its time of crisis require reimbursement. In the last few years, the Greek people have been subjected to immense financial constraints, after having lost 40 percent of their income. Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, embodied by Golden Dawn, have attempted to poison Greek society and fracture the system of values embodied in its culture.
Greek democracy and its judicial system have confronted these phenomena head on. The Greek government is making a gigantic effort to advance its reform and privatization program. Greece is a gifted country that still retains the power to rapidly reconstitute itself and forge solid alliances, despite the economic pressures and the aggressive threat posed by Turkey’s arrogant stance as a regional power.
Greece should be the ideal transnational partner for Israel, not least because of Greece’s membership in NATO and the European Union, and its proximity to Israel. Bilateral trade is already growing. In the energy sector the creation of an Israel-Cyprus-Greece alliance is unfolding, altering the status quo in the region. The transformation of this collaboration into a bilateral strategic relationship has even more robust prospects thanks to the deep shared historical and cultural roots of our countries.
In Greece, the flourishing Jewish communities of Athens and Thessaloniki have always acted as channels of friendship between the two peoples. As governor of the Holy Sepulcher Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem plays a unifying role for all Christian doctrines and a conciliatory role for other religions as well, in complete cooperation with the State of Israel. Each side has the potential to act as a bridge and a portal to new markets for the other, as well as a vehicle for international collaboration through our global diasporas.
Less than a century ago the exchange of knowledge between the pioneering Jew, Albert Einstein, and the distinguished Greek mathematician Constantine Carathéodory changed the face of modern science. Today’s partnership between the two states and two nations is the renewal of a historical bond. To paraphrase the Greek Nobel Literature Prize winner Odysseas Elytis: "There will come a moment in time that our civilizations will astonish with the power of their timeliness.”
Dr. Evripidis Stylianidis, an expert in constitutional law, is a New Democracy member of the Greek Parliament and served recently as Greece’s Interior Minister.