Event attended by members of congress and Greek and Jewish American organizations. HALC and AJC held a day of joint advocacy in Congress.
Washington, DC.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Greek and Jewish American organizations joined members of Congress in celebration of the second anniversary of the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance, a bi-partisan group of members of Congress promoting the strengthening of the relationship of all four countries.
A reception took place on Wednesday, February 25, on Capitol Hill, supported by the American Jewish Committee, Hellenic American Leadership Council and the Cyprus Federation of America. Over a dozen members of Congress showed up and offered their remarks, stressing the importance of the CHIA, as well as the stabilizing role Israel, Greece and Cyprus play in a very volatile region.
Many members of Congress also took a stand in support of Greece, in its effort to overcome the austerity policies and move to growth and prosperity.
Congressman Ted Deutch, co-chairman of CHIA, in his opening remarks praised the Hellenic, Cypriot and Jewish Organizations that supported the event, for working individually and collectively to achieve the same goals as the caucus and their support to CHIA.
He also thanked his co-chair, Congressman Gus Bilirakis for his work and contribution to the growth of the caucus.
“I am honored to be a part of the caucus”, Deutch said. “The relationship between the Hellenic and Jewish cultures and between our allies in the eastern Mediterranean is one significant value to the United States and therefore is important that we here in Congress show our support”.
The excellent numbers of members of Congress that joined the caucus, Deutch said, reaffirms that there is support in the House of Representatives for strengthening the natural partnership with and between our allies, Cyprus, Greece and Israel.
Addressing important issues of the eastern Mediterranean, the Democratic congressman from Florida pointed out that as change is an unstoppable force for around the world, that area is no exception.
“Between domestic democratic transitions and external security threats, countries are shifting and adapting every day to meet the new demands. That’s why it is so important to emphasize the fundamental commonalities and strategic interests that we all share. It is and will continue to be mutually beneficial for us to strengthen this relationship, especially and in spite of the dynamic world we live in.”
In concluding, Congressman Deutch promised that the caucus will continue to highlight priorities from energy pursuits to cooperation on regional security threats and support continued cooperation.
Co-Chairman Gus Bilirakis told the audience that he is proud that in two short years CHIA has grown into a group of members intent on strengthening the relationships between these natural allies, Greece, Cyprus and Israel, in a contentious region.
He also reminded everyone of the common values shared by the Hellenic and Jewish Communities of the United States
Speaking about Greece, Cyprus and Israel, he said they are currently entrenched in geopolitical battles with far reaching implications outside their borders.
“A central reason that this alliance was formed was to unite and engage reasonable minds, with significant reasonable interests, to discuss strategies for progress and stability in the region. As we foster this growing relationship between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, we must continue to highlight how the United States can facilitate these relationships and benefit from strong alliances”.
He underlined that energy can be a catalyst for diplomacy and the discovery of hydrocarbons can provide energy security and stability, as well as tremendous economic growth to the region.
Addressing the Turkish provocations in the EEZ of Cyprus and the issuance of NAVTEX that brought the peace negotiations to a suspension, the Republican congressman from Florida said “now that these deliberate violations of Cyprus’ and Israel’s bilateral EEZ agreement are persisting, the time is ripe for America to flex more muscle”.
“We must speak loudly to preserve energy stability for all countries exploring and producing petrochemicals in the eastern Mediterranean. And also to do everything we can so that Cypriot reunification negotiations can resume again”.
Bilirakis also expressed support for a pipeline connecting Tamar and Leviathan gas fields through Cyprus and Greece and into Europe and the continued military exercises between Israel and Cypriot forces, as well as between the Israel and the Greek forces.
Finally he called for joining forces to combat anti-Semitism.
Other members of Congress that attended the event were:
From Illinois, Robin Kelly, Cheri Bustos, Aaron Schock and Bob Dold.
From New York, Grace Meng and Nita Lowey. From Maryland John Sarbanes. From Nevada Dina Titus. From Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen/ From Ohio Tim Ryan.
Addressing the audience, the Cypriot Ambassador to the United States George Chacalli thanked the Co-Chairmen and all the members of the Alliance, as well as the community organizations that support the event, such as the American Jewish Committee, the Hellenic American Leadership Council and the Cyprus Federation of America.
Ambassador Chacalli said that although last year, during the celebration of the Alliance’s first anniversary he was a bit more hopeful about the prospects for a solution to the Cyprus problem, this is not the case this year, because of the Turkish violations of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and the use of force by Turkey to blackmail Cyprus.
“The effort of our side from day one is to see how to get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible, because the Cyprus problem has lasted for far too long. It’s time for our friends to be more forceful and use their influence with Turkey. Things can easily take a normal course and the negotiations can restart the soonest, but not under blackmail”.
The Cypriot Ambassador urged all members of the Congressional Alliance to convey the message that we need to be little bit more forceful towards Turkey to stop its blackmailing tactics.
Ambassador of Greece Christos Panagopoulos praised the efforts by the Alliance to bring together members of Congress and to help Israel, Cyprus, Greece and the United States playing jointly a role for the stability of the region. He said we would wish for Turkey to be able to play this role too, but unfortunately it doesn’t behave the way it should.
“By joining forces our four nations could do great things for the stability of the region”, the Greek Ambassador said.
The congressional Counselor of the Israeli Embassy Dor Shapira praised the close cooperation of the four nations and he expressed his strong belief that any government is in power in either one of them the relation will remain strong. He spoke about the challenges Israel, Greece and Cyprus face, but also of the opportunities and the potential. He also said the cooperation of the three countries and the United States will promote economic opportunities and security to the region, religion freedom for the minorities and much more..
HALC AND AJC HIT CAPITOL
Continuing a 3 year tradition, HALC and the American Jewish Committee — joined by representatives of the Cyprus Federation of America and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes — held a day of joint advocacy in Congress. 40 HALC members from Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Maryland teamed up with AJC delegates to conduct in-depth briefings with more than 30 members of Congress and the Senate or their staffs.
This month, HALC’s grassroots network has been busy advocating for Hellenic issues. In just two weeks, HALC members sent a petition with over 12,000 signatures to the White House urging strong U.S. support for Greece in its negotiations over a new economic deal with Europe. This week, HALC members took their work on the ground, briefing Congress on energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the status of religious minorities in the same region.
This type of citizen lobbying and education is of paramount important in our community. Via one-on-one meetings with members of Congress or their staff, we are able to fill in the information gaps in media coverage, provide context, and underscore the importance of Greece and Cyprus, not just in terms of regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean but in terms of American interests as well.
Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean has become a front-line issue in U.S. foreign policy. The discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean has raised the hopes of quicker economic recoveries in Greece and Cyprus, extra incentives in the peace processes in Cyprus and in Israel, and the potential to tie Western nations like Greece, Cyprus and Israel together with Arab states like Egypt and Jordan. Yet the opportunities for peace and integration are impeded by continued intransigence by Turkey, which is maintaining its months long invasion of Cyprus’ EEZ and 40+ year occupation of Greece. During their briefings, HALC members asked Congress to put greater pressure on Turkey to deescalate the crisis and to help build a regional infrastructure — that could eventually accommodate all states in the region — with the states that are ready to work together and honor international law.
The protection of religious minorities in Turkey and the Middle East was the other focus of this week’s advocacy activities. Last year, together with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), HALC helped push through the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act through the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, House leadership would not allow a vote by the full House on the bill, and is apparently intent on keeping a reintroduced Act not make it to the full House should it pass through committee again. The Act simply required the State Department to report on the status of Christian churches in Turkey being returned to their faithful. If House leadership is intent on preventing such a report from being issued, HALC, the AJC and other partners will be seeking hearings in the House and Senate to have the same information be revealed.
The meetings during the day:
Dick Durbin (IL), Joe Donnelly (IN), Gary Peters (MI), Cory Books (NJ), Bob Menendez (NJ), Ben Cardin (MD), Ed Markey (MA)
Senator Mark Kirk (IL)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Work
Senator Sherrod Brown (OH)
Senator Bob Casey (PA)
Jan Schakowsky, Robin Kelly, Cheri Bustos, Congressman Aaron Schock, Peter Roskam, Bob Dold, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster.
Grace Meng, Nita Lowey, Hakeem Jeffries, John Katko, Lee Zeldin.
Christ Smith, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Donald Norcross, Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Mike Fitzpatrick, Joe Pitts
Gus Bilirakis, Ted Deutch, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.