Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (L) speaks as he delivers a joint statement with his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem March 30, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The bond between the peoples of Greece and Israel extends far beyond the 26 years of diplomatic relations between the two eastern Mediterranean democracies, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday.
Pavlopoulos arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening for a threeday official visit. His itinerary on Wednesday included a tour of Yad Vashem, a meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a visit to the Hebrew University where he received an honorary doctorate, and a state dinner hosted by Rivlin.
Before becoming a politician, Pavlopoulos was a professor of administrative law at the University of Athens.
A member of the New Democracy party, before his election to parliament in 1996 he served in a number of political roles including government spokesman and New Democracy chairman. In 2004, he was appointed interior minister, public administration and decentralization, and later minister for the interior and public order. He was elected president of Greece in February 2015.
Speaking of past, present and future alliances between Greece and Israel, Pavlopoulos said, “We know what we have done and what we want to do with goodwill in terms of commerce and economics. But of all the things we want to pursue, the most important is peace.
”We are in a difficult neighborhood, but not just our own region, the whole of Europe,” he said.
Then addressing Rivlin as the symbol of the Jewish collective, Pavlopoulos said: “You know what it is to be a refugee in the Diaspora. We receive refugees because first and foremost they are human beings. We receive them just as they were received in ancient Greece, because that is the humane thing to do.”
Pavlopoulos distinguished between refugees and terrorists, who he said represent the new barbarity. “We will not accept what goes against humanity,” he declared. “We, as democracies, have to disseminate the message that we will not tolerate terrorism, fear, hate, racism and anti-Semitism.”
The Greek president said that to his regret he could not help but be aware that racism and anti-Semitism are on the rise.
“We have to put an end to it,” he said. “We must fight against terrorism and on behalf of humanity. We must not allow Europe to become a dark continent.
Europe must be a light for humanity.”
Rivlin spoke about the centuries- long history between the people op the two countries, the dangers of radical Islam, and the need for a strategic regional and economic alliance against terrorism.
“Wars and disquiet in the Middle East affect you and us economically,” he told Pavlopoulos, citing the chaos in Syria as an example.
Rivlin also mentioned the importance of cooperation between Israel and Greece in the spheres of natural gas, other forms of energy and agriculture.
On Thursday, Pavlopoulos will visit Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, who was in the receiving line of dignitaries who greeted Pavlopoulos when he arrived at the President’s Residence.
When Rivlin was about to introduce the president and the patriarch, both men bowed in deference to each other’s status.
Pavlopoulos explained that there was no need for introductions because they both come from the city of Kalamata in the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece, and knew each other long before either of them was serving in his present role.
Pavlopoulos will have a formal parley with Theophilos III on Thursday, and will wind up his visit with a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with whom he will discuss the strengthening of ties between Israel, Greece and Cyprus, and the three countries’ plan to build a gas pipeline to Europe.
While in Israel, the Greek president will also urge Israeli entrepreneurs to invest in his country.