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Gratitude to Greece

July 13, 2011

OU LETTERS TO GREEK OFFICIALS, INCLUDING PRIME MINISTER, EXPRESS GRATITUDE FOR PREVENTING SHIPS TO GAZA FROM LEAVING GREEK PORTS AND WATERS

The Orthodox Union has sent letters of gratitude to three high Greek officials, including Prime Minister George Papandreou, acknowledging their helpfulness to Israel on the recent flotilla challenge by taking steps to prevent ships intending to illegally break the Gaza blockade from leaving Greek ports and Greek waters. In addition to the Prime Minister, OU President Simcha Katz and Executive Vice President Rabbi Stephen Weil wrote to Minister for Citizen Protection Christos Papoutsis and Ambassador of Greece to the United States Vassilis Kaskarelis.

The letter, noting that “Greece’s Jewish community is the longest, continuous population of Jews in Europe,” notes how during World War II, “some of Greece’s political and religious leadership refused to bow to Nazi demands to deport Greek Jews for extermination. The Archbishop of Athens had a hand in rescuing some two-thirds of Athenian Jewry by providing false baptismal certificates. Bishop Chrysostomos of Zakynthos responded to a German order for a list of Jews by providing a list with just two names: his own and the town’s mayor, telling the Nazis defiantly, “Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.”

The text of the letter is as follows:

“On behalf of the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella group, representing nearly one thousand synagogues, we write to express our gratitude for the actions your government has taken to prevent ships intending to illegally break the Gaza blockade from leaving Greek ports and Greek waters.

Greece should be proud of its actions, despite any critique you may be hearing from some quarters. Indeed, Greece’s Jewish community is the longest, continuous population of Jews in Europe. And Greece’s history of standing up for what is right dates back to at least the Second World War, when almost alone among European nations, some of Greece’s political and religious leadership refused to bow to Nazi demands to deport Greek Jews for extermination. The Archbishop of Athens had a hand in rescuing some two-thirds of Athenian Jewry by providing false baptismal certificates. Bishop Chrysostomos of Zakynthos responded to a German order for a list of Jews by providing a list with just two names: his own and the town’s mayor, telling the Nazis defiantly, ‘Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me and I will share their fate.’

As you are aware, the blockade of Gaza, fully consistent with international law, has been instituted to keep weapons, ammunition and other contraband from reaching Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, which to this day, continue to advocate violence against Israel, including against Israeli civilians and continue to violate international law in holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive in contravention of all accepted international human rights norms, including their refusal to allow access to him by the International Red Cross. As well, they refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Israel, on its side, continues to allow medicines and food items into Gaza and allow Gazans access to Israeli hospitals. Its naval blockade of Gaza is solely to ensure the safety and security of its citizens and unfortunately, several ships have been intercepted that have been filled with weapons. Again, we write with thanks and in gratitude. On behalf of Jewish communities around the world and all people of good will, we are certain Heaven will look kindly upon you personally and all of Greece.”