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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Greece and Israel: More in common than you think

Someone reminded me recently of a quip I once made about a fellow Orthodox Jewish Freshman at Columbia in the 1970's, who had written on his dorm application that he wanted an 'Orthodox roommate' and got a Greek Orthodox one, which was not what he had in mind (he wanted an Orthodox Jewish roommate). The person who reminded me of the story thought I was the protagonist (I was not).

But Greece and Israel have a lot more in common than most of you probably think. There was a lot of surprise expressed recently over the extent to which Greece cooperated with Israel in denying the flotilla of fools the opportunity to create a confrontation on their way to Gaza. You should not be surprised. You see, as Diana Muir Appelbaum (who was a class ahead of me across the street at Barnard) points out, Israel and Greece have a lot of things in common.
Only after the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians and the 1,400,000 Greek Christians of Anatolia was largely complete did the great powers meet in the Swiss city of Lausanne, where they worked out partial compensation for the Greek victims. The remaining Christians in Turkey were obliged to move to Greece, and the 300,000 Muslims in Greece (except for those of Thrace) were required to depart for Turkey, with their homes converted to housing for Greek refugees. A Greek Christian community was allowed to remain in Istanbul in 1923, but it was driven out during the Cyprus crises.

One result was that well over a quarter of the population of the Greek state, which numbered a mere four-and-a-half million people, was suddenly made up of refugees. Only in the Jewish state have refugees comprised a larger proportion of the population.

Even after this enormous ethnic cleansing, large Greek communities remained in the Soviet Union, Egypt, French Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere. The Greek law of return was designed to provide citizenship for ethnic Greeks who might need it. They have needed it often—in large events, like the Nasser-era policies that forced a substantial Greek community out of Egypt, and small but dramatic ones, like the 1993 Greek Army operation that rescued ethnic Greeks from war-torn Abkhazia.

The challenges of integrating these recurring waves of refugees have been enormous. As in Israel, they arrived stripped of their property to a country with little demand for their skills, speaking mutually unintelligible variants of Greek or entirely foreign languages.
Read the whole thing. Now, if only all those things we have in common would translate into UN votes....

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At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greece has been extremely leftist and Marxist for donkey's years. They were some of the biggest supporters of the PLO in its infancy and prime.

Don't hold your breath.


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