Jews, Greeks and Cypriots all have large Diaspora communities, and 12 members of those communities are currently on a Birthright-type program to Israel, Greece and Cyprus in an effort to forge bonds between the communities, and also strengthen ties between the three countries.
The 12 – five Jews, two Greeks and five Cypriots from the US, Britain and Australia – flew to Athens from Tel Aviv on Saturday night, after spending four days in Israel meeting government officials and touring sites. They will do the same in Greece and then in Cyprus.
The idea, said Yigal Palmor, head of the Jewish Agency’s international relations unit, is that “they discover the things that are in common and concerns of their communities in each country – what they have in common in living in the Diaspora. And when they understand what they have in common, they will cooperate, strengthening their communications and with the homeland.”
As ties between the communities get close abroad, he said, this will also help strengthen ties between the three countries as well.
Among the issues that were discussed were questions of dual loyalty, intermarriage and misunderstandings that exist about each community outside of the homeland.
The Greek diaspora is estimated at some 5.5 million people, mainly in the US but also with large communities in Britain, Germany, France, Australia and Canada. The Cypriot diaspora is estimated at about one million people, mostly in Great Britain, the US and Australia.
The funding for the project was split between the three countries, with the Jewish Agency and B’nai B’rith paying for the airplane tickets of the Jews on the trip and the cost of the hosting the entire delegation in Israel, the Greeks paying for the airfare of the Greek participants and the costs of the trip to Greece, and Cyprus doing the same for the Cypriots and the itinerary in Cyprus.
Palmor said that while the focus now is on Israel, Greece and Cyprus, the hope is that the project will be expanded to include other countries as well.
The project is an outgrowth of a first-of-its-kind conference on Diaspora-Homeland relations held in Jerusalem in 2017, attended by representatives from 31 countries.
That conference, hosted by the Jewish Agency in partnership with the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset, was held – as a communique said at the time – in light of a growing realization that “many countries have become aware of the importance of their national diasporas, and of strengthening ties between members of those diasporas and their homelands. The idea of transforming the national diaspora into an inseparable part of the nation and sometimes into a strategic asset is gradually becoming part of the political consciousness in many countries.”
That seminar dealt with questions such as how to make the homeland real for younger generations living thousands of miles away, and how to impart the importance of maintaining ties between the homeland and the diaspora.
Among the countries with significant diasporas that took part were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Russia and Vietnam.
Palmor said that Greece and Cyprus showed the most interest at the conference, sending the most senior officials – with Greece sending a deputy foreign minister in charge of relations with his country’s expatriate community, and Cyprus a presidential commissioner for Cypriots oversees.
With ties between the three countries flourishing, Palmor said, the Greeks and Cypriots suggested making diaspora cooperation part of the trilateral cooperation between the countries.
Prior to the trilateral summit held by the heads of government in Beersheba in 2018, Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog met in Nicosia with Greece’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Terens Quick, and with Presidential Commissioner for the Cypriot Diaspora Photis Photiou, to expand the cooperation between the countries’ diaspora communities.
Agreement at that meeting was reached to organize the joint “roots” trip for Jews, Greeks and Cypriots living in their respective diasporas that is currently under way.