(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
President Reuven Rivlin is due to leave Israel on Sunday night for a state visit to Greece.
When Greek and Cypriot presidents visit Israel it is seldom for more than a day and a half, but Rivlin will not return until Wednesday night. He will be in Greece at the invitation of his Greek counterpart, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
He has an extremely full schedule, but asked that the itinerary prepared for him by his Greek hosts be changed so that he could visit the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki that was vandalized earlier this month, presumably by members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose name was daubed at the base of the monument.
On learning of Rivlin’s request, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that he would escort the president to the site of the monument.
Rivlin has taken every opportunity in recent months to speak out against renewed antisemitism, extremism, racism and neo-Nazism. All of these negative traits can be found in Golden Dawn.
While in Greece, Rivlin will also speak about these dangers – affecting not only Jews but civilized society as a whole.
In addition to meetings with Pavlopoulos, Tsipras and other senior officials, Rivlin will join members of the Jewish community of Athens to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. During his visit to Thessaloniki he will participate in the laying of a corner stone for the Museum to the Victims of the Holocaust, and plant a tree in their memory.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Greece in June last year – together with Rachel and Eliahu, the daughter and son of 93-year-old Greek Holocaust survivor Moshe Ha-Elion – he unveiled a plaque for the museum. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 90,000 Jews in Thessaloniki, which was one of the world’s great centers of Sephardi Jewry. The community was destroyed by the Nazis, who murdered 50,000 Greek Jews; today the Jewish community of Thessaloniki numbers fewer than a thousand souls.
Most of the survivors came to Israel, including the parents of Yehuda Poliker, celebrated singer of Greek songs.
The museum will be constructed on the site of the train station from which Jews were deported to Auschwitz.
Rivlin is also due to visit a Greek naval base accompanied by Israel Navy commander V.-Adm. Eli Sharvit, and the Greek defense minister and chief of staff.
Before leaving Greece, Rivlin will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Piraeus.