Fundamentally Freund: It's Greek to me

Greece stares down the entire Western alliance over a name.

Once upon a time, and it seems like it was truly a very long time ago, Israel knew how to stand on principle. Attacks on our citizens were met with swift and forceful retaliation. Talk of surrender alluded to our foes, rather than to official Israeli government policy, and we didn't hesitate to defy the world when necessary in order to defend ourselves. The spirit of Entebbe, Osirak and yes, the Six Day War, sparked our imagination, filling us with pride at the valor and heroism of the modern-day Jewish warrior. Our lives had meaning, our society had a purpose, and the nation's overriding goal was to build the land, rather than withdraw from it. But all that appears to have changed. Our leadership's infatuation with retreat has become an obsession. Yesterday's trial balloons have become today's diplomatic agenda, and what was once considered unthinkable, such as the division of Jerusalem, is now suddenly looming over the horizon. How did we reach this point? How could we sink so low so swiftly? Well, you might be saying to yourself, we don't have a choice. We're a small country, with limited resources. What else can we do? Do you really think we can stand up to the rest of the world? Heck yes. If you think this is naïve, just take a look at Greece, which recently stared down the entire Western alliance over an issue of semantics. EARLIER THIS month, at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Greece singlehandedly caused a major diplomatic imbroglio, scuttling the expansion of NATO and defying the will of nearly all of its friends and allies, for the simple reason that it objected to the name of its neighbor, Macedonia. Macedonia, which used to be part of Yugoslavia, had been hoping to receive a formal invitation to join the trans-Atlantic coalition, as a means of further deepening its integration into the West. "But Athens blocked the invitation," the Associated Press reported on Monday, "to protest Macedonia's name, saying it implies a claim to a northern region of Greece also called Macedonia." As the Greek Foreign Ministry Web site explains, "The choice of the name Macedonia directly raises the issue of usurpation of the cultural heritage of a neighboring country. The name constitutes the basis for staking an exclusive rights claim over the entire geographical area of Macedonia." In other words, Greece is willing to risk the wrath of the United States, Britain and the rest of the NATO coalition, merely because they believe that Macedonia's choice of name masks expansionist ambitions that threaten to undermine their sovereignty and territorial integrity. The boldness of Athens's position becomes even more apparent when one considers that over 100 countries formally recognize Macedonia as Macedonia. Nonetheless, Greece stubbornly continues to insist that it be referred to as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM. There are those who will look at the Greek position with raised eyebrows, wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, who cares about names? But I applaud their resolute determination to stand firm and defend what they consider to be their national interests, even at the risk of international opprobrium. Indeed, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakovannis didn't hesitate to announce publicly in March that "as regards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia… the policy followed by our neighboring country in its relations with Greece, on the one side with intransigence and on the other with a logic of nationalist and irredentist actions tightly connected with the naming issue, does not allow us to maintain a positive stance." "As long as there is no such solution," she added, "Greece will remain an insuperable obstacle to the European and Euro-Atlantic ambition of FYROM." Imagine that. A country that is prepared to stand up for itself and proudly declare its willingness to be "an insuperable obstacle" over a matter of principle! If only Israel and its leadership would learn from Greece's example. Instead, we are being led by the nose inexorably towards catastrophe, unwilling to buck international pressure even when it threatens to undermine our very existence. There is, of course, an expression that something "looks like Greek to me" when we can not begin to fathom what it says. But this is one case where Israel would do well to start deciphering the words. And fast.