Following the dramatic improvement in Israeli-Greek relations in the last two years, the visit of President Shimon Peres to Athens symbolized the commitment of the governments of Israel and Greece to further promote their strategic cooperation and advance bilateral ties in all fields.
(Communicated by the Embassy of Israel, Athens)
President Shimon Peres visited Athens on August 6-9, 2012 at the invitation of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Carolos Papoulias, in order to hold discussions with the Greek political leadership aimed at further deepening Israeli-Greek bilateral ties and expanding cooperation in a range of issues, especially diplomatic, security and economic.
The President of Israel held a series of diplomatic meetings with senior Greek leaders including President Papoulias, the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Antonis Samaras, the Hellenic Parliament Speaker, Mr. Evangelos Meimerakis, the leader of the Socialist PASOK Party, Mr. Evangelos Venizelos, as well as the President of the Parliamentary Group of the main opposition Coalition of the Radical Left Party (SYRIZA), Mr. Alexis Tsipras.
During his stay in Athens, President Peres also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was presented with the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament. Moreover, President Shimon Peres received a special guided tour of the New Acropolis Museum and met with leaders of the Greek Jewish community.
On his visit, President Peres was accompanied by the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Regional Planning, Mrs. Orit Noked, who participated in official meetings. Mrs. Noked was also given the opportunity to meet with her Greek counterpart, the Minister of Agricultural Development, Mr. Athanassios Tsiaftaris, with whom she discussed Israeli-Greek agricultural cooperation, an important field of bilateral collaboration.
Meeting of President Peres with the President of the Hellenic Republic
The Presidents of Greece and Israel inspect the Greek Presidential Honor Guard
(Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
President Shimon Peres began his official visit to Greece on August 6th arriving at the Greek Presidential Mansion where he received a warm greeting from his Greek counterpart and host, Mr. Carolos Papoulias.
The Presidents of Israel and Greece agreed on the intensification of contacts between the two countries with emphasis on the sectors of investments, energy, tourism, shipping, agricultural development, the environment and commerce.
In statements to the media both during and after their discussions, Presidents Peres and Papoulias stressed the importance of promoting bilateral ties. The President of Greece underlined that Mr. Shimon Peres’ visit is proof of the warm relations between Greece and Israel that are showing an improvement in many sectors of mutual interest.
President Peres stated that the enhancement of relations between Greece and Israel is a good omen. The Hellenic Republic President expressed satisfaction for the participation of Israeli Agriculture and Regional Development Minister, Orit Noked, in the delegation accompanying President Peres, adding that Greek land has a great potential that can benefit from Israeli know-how. He also added that the progress made in desalination technology in Israel could be beneficial for Greek islands.
Mr. Papoulias said the Greek-Israeli Inter-Governmental Cooperation Council will be convened as soon as possible, and will contribute to further strengthening the close relations between the two countries.
President Peres said that it is important to have a "further marriage" between Greece and Israel noting that the two countries belong to the same spiritual family and geographic space which now includes a scientific dimension and political process. He noted that Greece has excellent scientists and that Greek and Israeli researchers could accomplish a lot working together.
President Shimon Peres offered words of encouragement to the Greek people which is experiencing an economic crisis, noting that many observers may see the beginning of the crisis but he sees the end. Mr. Peres pointed to his experiences in dealing with economic difficulties in Israel in the past, referring to the difficult financial measures he was forced to take. President Peres, added, however that a crisis can also serve as a new beginning expressing optimism that Greece would overcome its difficulties.
The Presidents of Greece and Israel also referred to developments in the region including the Middle East. President Peres said that in the modern world, countries including Greece and Israel no longer face common enemies but common threats. He pointed to the recent killing of 15 Egyptian policemen by terrorist gunmen in the Sinai and expressed condolences to their families. The President of Israel also referred to the central role played by Iran in promoting terrorism adding that the core of the problem lies in the Iranian leadership. Mr. Peres also stressed the importance of tourism in the region noting that the goal is to have a world of "tourists not terrorists."
President Papoulias said Greece condemns terrorism, from wherever it emanates, and supports the finding of a viable and comprehensive solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that will be based on the creation of an independent Palestinian state that will coexist peacefully with Israel. He noted that for Greece, the security of Israel is an essential facet of any solution. President Peres stressed Israel’s commitment to achieve peace with the Palestinians expressing optimism that someday a solution will be found.
Official Dinner in Honor of the Israeli President
President Peres (center) with the Greek President (right of Peres) at the official banquet in
honor of the President of Israel. The Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Antonis Samaras,
is standing to the right of Mr. Peres. (Photo: Israel Embassy, Athens)
The Presidents of Greece and Israel reiterated the desire to further strengthen Israeli-Greek ties and referred to the new momentum in bilateral relations in all sectors while addressing a formal dinner hosted in honor of visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres on the first day of his visit to Greece on August 6th. The dinner was attended, among others, by high ranking political officials from Greece including the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, as well as distinguished businessmen from both countries.
In his speech the host, the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Carolos Papoulias said that President Peres’s visit reflects the dynamic of bilateral relations and the friendship between the people of Greece and Israel. He welcomed Mr. Peres characterizing him as a "true friend of Greece."
Mr. Papoulias also referred to the strengthening of ties between the Greek and Jewish Diaspora noting that this cooperation could be valuable. He also stressed the "heavy price in blood" Greece paid during the Holocaust with the loss of 65,000 Greek Jews. He added that in the common struggle against Nazism, many Christian Greeks endangered their lives to save their Jewish compatriots noting that this forged bonds of friendship between Greeks and Jews.
President Papoulias said that the memories of Fascism remain alive and current. He added that Fascism in Europe, with the scent of racism is gaining a political podium. He stressed that "our nations must display zero tolerance for hatred, racism and anti-Semitism."
The President of Greece strongly condemned the recent the terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria saying that we have zero tolerance for "such repugnant acts of terrorism."
Mr. Papoulias said that bilateral Israeli-Greek relations have been substantially upgraded during the last few years and may become strategic in order to function as a factor or stability in the wider area of the East Mediterranean.
President Papoulias expressed satisfaction about the rising tourist flow from Israel and the significant prospects for cooperation in the sectors of investments, energy, agricultural development and high technology, stressing the important role of the Intergovernmental Ministerial Council.
The President of Greece made reference to the discovery of natural gas in the East Mediterranean saying that the convergence of interests in the region allows for the establishment of strategic relations. He referred to the prospects of having Greece function as a hub for the transport of Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe stating that this will change the geopolitical framework in the greater region.
President Papoulias expressed concern for the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and stated that the "problem is political and demands a political solution by the Syrian people."
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Greek President stated that "a viable solution is a solution of two states: Israel within secure borders that will coexist peacefully with the independent Palestinian state and enjoy normalized relations with all its neighbours. Greece believes that direct negotiations between the two sides can make such a solution feasible."
Closing his speech, the Greek President said that Greece and Israel have an obligation to act as "pillars of stability" in the Eastern Mediterranean. He also said that Greece wants the expansion of its cooperation with Israel to also take place in the framework of an enhanced Union for the Mediterranean
The President of Israel thanked the Greek President for his warm greeting and hospitality. In his speech he made extensive references to the history of Greece, its ties to Israel, developments in the Middle East and Israeli-Greek relations.
President Peres praised the history of Greece stressing one that one senses it in every step he takes in the country pointing to the "intellectual inspiration which flows through the veins" of the land. President Peres noted that Greece is the birthplace of mythology, philosophy, science, literacy and theatre as well as the "democracy of Athens and the heroism of Sparta."
President Shimon Peres referred to a meeting between the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, who was his mentor, with the late British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, during which Churchill told the Israeli leader that no two other nations had contributed more to human civilization than Greece and Israel. Mr. Peres added that when David Ben Gurion thought the time had come to establish the State of Israel, he was greatly inspired by Greek philosophy and ancient Greek historians like Thucydides.
President Peres stated that that Greece introduced philosophy to the world, while Israel introduced prophecy. He noted that philosophy lies at the heart of democracy, while prophecy is the core of human morality.
President Peres said that both Greece and Israel were trying to cope with a changing world without breaking away from their ancient heritage. He said that one of the greatest challenges countries are facing today is the global economy in which science has replaced land in importance.
The President of Israel offered words of encouragement to the Greek people in the economic crisis making references to the harsh measures he had to take in the past as Prime Minister when in inflation in Israel stood at 400%. He said that he understood that the Greek Government has been forced to adopt difficult measures but that the Greek people would regain strength once it sees that any pain it is experiencing will lead to recovery.
Referring to bilateral Israeli-Greek relations, President Peres stressed the geographic and historic proximity between Greece and Israel. He added that the time has come to live as political friends and cooperate like scientific states. He also referred to the great cultural affinity between Greeks and Israelis pointing to the great popularity of Greek culture and music in Israel. The Israeli President stressed that Greece has become a favorite tourist destination for Israelis.
Speaking about Israel and the Middle East, President Peres said that Israel is maintaining economic growth in spite of facing tremendous security obstacles. He stressed that Israel is the only country in the world battling for its very existence. Mr. Peres said that in spite of this, he believes peace is feasible. He stressed that Israel continues to consider peace a priority and is ready to pay a heavy price to achieve it.
The President of Israel stressed that the greatest danger for his country and the international community today emanates from Iran which is trying to establish hegemony in the Arab world, is supporting terrorism and developing nuclear weapons. He said that Iran is also actively participating in the massacre of the Syrian people both directly and through the Hizbullah terrorist organization.
At the end of his speech, President Peres said that Israeli-Greek relations are expressed through a wide range of cooperation in important fields like foreign policy and security, economy and trade, cultural relations and sporting events, science and technology, and renewable energy. He added that Greece and Israel have embarked together on a long road towards the future and a bright, promising horizon for the relations between the two countries.
Meeting of the President of Israel with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Antonis Samaras
President Shimon Peres with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
(Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
On August 6th, 2012, President Peres held a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Antonis Samaras.
After greeting the Israeli President at Maximos Mansion, the Prime Minister of Greece welcomed Mr. Peres saying that his visit reflects a new era in bilateral Israeli-Greek relations which are moving in a positive direction.
President Shimon Peres said that Greece and Israel have opened a new chapter in their relations adding that both states are close in terms of geography and spirit. He said that they should take meaningful steps to develop cooperation in fields like science, culture and energy.
The President of Israel noted that cooperation could also be extended to include Cyprus, which he said was the first Mediterranean island to join the EU. He expressed the hope that Europe would also expand to include more of the Mediterranean region as opposed to only encompassing Northern European states.
Prime Minister Samaras thanked Mr. Peres for bringing the Israeli Minister of Agriculture with him pointing to the prospects for cooperation in the agricultural sector between Greece and Israel. President Peres stated that Greece has a good amount of fertile land and water resources. He pointed to the great advances Israel has made in agricultural technology and water management that could be part of bilateral cooperation.
Both the President of Israel and Prime Minister of Greece also discussed developments in the wider region and expressed the hope that turmoil in the Middle East would resolve itself in a positive way.
Following their meeting, Prime Minister Samaras hosted a working lunch for President Peres with delegations. Officials which attended the meeting included the Greek Foreign and Defense Ministers, Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos and Mr. Panos Panagiotopoulos respectively, the Greek Minister of Finance, Mr. Ioannis Stournaras, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Regional Development, Mrs. Orit Noked, and her Greek counterpart, Professor Athanassios Tsaftaris, as well as the Greek Deputy Minister of Development, Mr. Notis Mytarakis.
President Shimon Peres receives the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament
President Peres receiving the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament from
Greek Parliament Speaker, Evangelos Meimerakis (Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO)
On August 7, 2012, after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President Shimon Peres paid an official visit to the Hellenic Parliament where he was received by Parliament Speaker Mr. Evangelos Meimarakis. During their meeting, the Greek Parliament President presented Mr. Peres with the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament, the highest honor that can be bestowed by the State of Greece, for the Israeli President’s contribution to peace and the global community. The medal included an engraving of the ancient leader of Athens, Pericles.
In statements to the media, Mr. Meimarakis characterized the Israeli President visit to Greece as "historic". He said that Mr. Peres greatly contributed to peace in a region that suffered a lot. The Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament stressed the strategic character of Israeli-Greek cooperation, underlining the will of the Greek Government to deepen it in all fields. He added that "our nations want to live in peace and democracy." Mr. Meimerakis also stressed that cooperation between Greece and Israel is not coincidental but a strategic choice for peace in the area.
President Peres expressed satisfaction for being in "the birthplace of democracy." He stated that parliaments give wind to the soul and added that without the ancient Athenian leader, Pericles, people would not know how to conduct a dialogue, especially in Parliament. The President of Israel stressed that he himself was a parliamentarian for 48 years.
The President of Israel said that Greece and Israel may be small in size but could still do great things in spirit and science, to build a promising future in a world changing so quickly that it will not be recognizable in 10 years.
Greece and Israel agree to further cooperation in Agriculture
On the sidelines of the formal visit of the President of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, to Greece, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Regional Development, Mrs. Orit Noked, held a meeting with her Greek counterpart, Professor Athanassios Tsaftaris, at the Greek Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food. The Greek Alternate Minister of Agriculture, Mr, Maximos Harakopoulos, also participated in the discussion. Mrs. Noked accompanied President Peres on his visit to Athens.
Agriculture is one of the key fields of cooperation between Greece and Israel. It is worth noting that Mrs. Noked also visited Greece in March where she met with her Greek counterpart and the Commercial Chamber of the region of Korinthia.
During their meeting, the Greek and Israeli Agriculture Ministers agreed to forge even closer cooperation between Greece and Israel in the fields of water management and conservation, organic farming, the production of Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products, applied agricultural research, land improvement projects and aquaculture.
In statements to the media, Mrs. Orit Noked stressed that relations with Greece are very important for Israel, particularly in the field of agriculture. She added that she is aware of the difficult period Greece is experiencing and said that assistance in agricultural matters can be decisive in the country’s efforts to solve its problems.
From his side, Mr. Tsaftaris underlined that both the Greek and Israeli Governments are interested in boosting agricultural development and cooperation. He also accepted an invitation by Mrs. Noked to visit Israel.
The "Greek Story" of President Peres
In a sense, the three day visit of President of Israel to Greece symbolized the closing of a circle for Mr. Shimon Peres. A fairly unknown and extremely touching aspect of President Peres’ ties to Greece is the story of his father, Yitzhak Persky. Nearly 70 years ago, Persky was a volunteer in the British Army stationed in Greece.
The whole story began in 1942 when a group of British soldiers, including Yitzhak Persky, parachuted into Greece to carry out sabotage operations against the Nazi forces. A Polish Jew, Persky had immigrated to colonial British controlled Palestine in 1932 and joined the Jewish Brigade of the British Army as a volunteer. At some point while in Greece, he was arrested by German soldiers but managed to escape. He wandered through the woods for weeks eating greens and lizards. Yitzhak Persky then met up with a group of Greek monks who provided him with food and shelter in a monastery for a year.
Yitzhak Persky’s adventure did not end in the monastery. In cooperation with Greek resistance forces, he left and joined up with several British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the area of Litohoro near Mt. Olympus. The father of the President of Israel and his fellow fighters then attempted to escape from Greece to Turkey through the island of Samos but were arrested by the Germans. However, prior to that, Persky had been given the ID of a dying soldier from New Zealand, and was thus not identified as a Jew which saved him from certain death.
Yitzhak Persky was sent to a Nazi prison camp in Poland. He survived and later returned to Israel.
In statements to the Greek media, President Shimon Peres referred to his special historical connection with Greece. He noted that his father often taught him as well as the grandchildren Greek songs he learned in Greece and pointed to the important role Greek culture played in his family.