The Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) hosted their 3rd annual Advocacy Day
Members of HALC and the AJC flew in from around the country to promote an advocacy initiative encouraging members of Congress to assert their views on the Cyprus negotiations. HALC and AJC members met with over 50 congressional offices, encouraging Senators and Representatives to sign onto a letter to Vice President Joe Biden led by Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey in the Senate and the co-chairmen of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance caucus (CHIA), Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch of Florida, in the House of Representatives.
The Advocacy Day was punctuated by the third anniversary celebration of CHIA, which was over 300 people — members of HALC and AJC, congressional staffers, members of the press and think tanks, 30 Members of Congress, officials from the Embassies of Greece, Cyprus and Israel including the Ambassadors of Greece and Israel. The attendance, especially the amount of high level attendees, underscored how far the trilateral relationship between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel has come, and what role the Greek-American and American Jewish communities have played in this partnership.
Congressmen Bilirakis and Deutch presided over an impressive showing by members of Congress – including both the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce and Elliot Engel; the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, former House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Deutch himself; several members of the House Appropriations and Foreign Affairs Committee; and Greek-American members of Congress and champions of the community, Gus Bilirakis, John Sarbanes and Dina Titus. The participation of so many senior members of Congress in the reception and Advocacy Day – including Senators Menendez, Kirk, Jack Reid (Rhode Island), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Gary Peters (Michigan), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), and the staffs of Senators Bob Corker (Tennessee; chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Ben Cardin (Maryland; ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), John McCain (Arizona), Marco Rubio (Florida), Ted Cruz (Texas), James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Dan Coats (Indiana), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Chris Murphy (Connecticut), Corey Booker (New Jersey), underscored the growing reach of the HALC/AJC partnership and effectiveness of the CHIA caucus.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Greek Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos, AJC Chief Executive Officer David Harris and HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides all offered remarks stressing the importance of the partnerships between the states of Greece, Israel, and Cyprus, and the Hellenic and Jewish diasporas world-wide.
NEO interviewed HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides regarding the importance of the CHIA caucus and the annual Advocacy Day:
NEO: Three years ago, HALC and AJC partnered to support Congressmen Bilirakis and Deutch in setting up the CHIA caucus. Are you satisfied with the progress in the last three years?
EZ: It has been said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. For three years, hundreds of HALC members have kept showing up in person, and tens of thousands have been showing up by sending letters to Congress online. Philhellenes at the American Jewish Committee and in Congress have kept showing up. And now we see the results. We are affecting policy in the United States and overseas, we have made our issues bi-partisan issues, and we have motivated more Hellenes to be involved in a more substantive manner than ever before. This is still just a beginning, and HALC is excited to work with its membership, its allies at the AJC, and its friends in Congress to take the next step.
NEO: What was the major achievement of this year’s Advocacy Day?
EZ: First of all, securing a letter to Vice President Biden from our allies in the Senate and House of Representatives laying out their opinion on key elements of an enduring settlement in Cyprus is very significant. We have learned from the experience of the Annan Plan in 2004 and more recently from the Iran deal in the U.S. Congress. One cannot wait until the last minute, be presented with a deal and then argue a better deal is possible. In this case, the community, its key allies in Congress, and the AJC have made it clear that a solution that includes guarantees, foreign armies, and items like derogations from EU law will not only fail to earn our support, but will most likely be rejected by the people of Cyprus. Second, we demonstrated that the cause of Cyprus is a bi-partisan cause. Both the House letter and Senate letter were led by one Democrat and one Republican. The top three Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and top three Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed onto the letter. We were received warmly by Congressmen and Senators of both parties and from the various wings of both parties. Finally, the support of the AJC and the comments of Ambassador Dermer showed that Cyprus and Greece are more crucial than ever in a regional context. We have gained a bigger audience than we have ever had, and if we can keep making the spotlight bigger, it is more likely that people will focus on how to reach a just and enduring settlement rather than just reach any solution in Cyprus.
NEO: What’s next?
EZ: The letters will be delivered to the Administration, publicized throughout the community and in Cyprus. We have to make sure that Greek Cypriots are not pressured under false pretenses to agree to conditions that are not only unjust, but will ultimately prevent the successful reunification of Cyprus. We will be presenting these letters to every member of Congress and every candidate for office we meet with through November, and seek commitments to back these positions.