When the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) started planning the relaunch of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance (CHIA) with the offices of US Representatives Gus Bilirakis and Brad Schneider, the focus was on the celebration.
The celebration, in this case, referred to Schneider’s installation as the new co-chair of CHIA; a celebration of the return of his predecessor – Ted Deutch – to Congress, this time as CEO of the AJC; a celebration of new diplomatic initiatives, specifically the expansion of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral to include India.
Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel made all those plans obsolete.
CHIA was instead re-launched against the background of war and of chaos in Washington, as the U.S. Congress entered its third week without a Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“Since founding the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance (CHIA), we find that together we are stronger and better prepared for the perpetual challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis. “The caucus will continue its robust efforts as we face one of the most dire situations experienced in the region and around the world: the current war between Israel and the Radical Islamist forces of Hamas and Hezbollah. We stand firmly with Israel and its right to exist and defend its citizens.”
This year’s annual CHIA event, although much different than planned, demonstrated the remarkable solidarity that exists not only between Greece, Cyprus and Israel but among the Greek American and American Jewish communities. Finally, it reminded everyone that although the trilateral that is celebrated every year represents stability, all three countries still live in a very dangerous neighborhood.
HALC and AJC members flew in from around the country and began their trip with the launch of the new Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa Policy Group at AJC headquarters. Among other discussions, the groups had a discussion with Assistant Secretary of State Geoffrey Pyatt and then given special briefings by the Embassies of Greece and Cyprus.
On the evening of October 24, the Library of Congress hosted the annual CHIA reception. With HALC’s Executive Director Endy Zemenides serving as Master of Ceremonies, Ted Deutch – who with Gus Bilirakis founded CHIA – marked his return to the halls of Congress, this time as an advocate rather than as a Member.
Despite the turmoil over in the House (Rep. Emmer dropped out of the Speaker’s race right before our reception and a candidate’s forum was taking place during it), Rep. Bilirakis, Schneider, Pappas, Quigley, Sarbanes, Manning, Wasserman Shultz, Spartz, Gallego, Menendez junior, and Gottheimer joined the reception and addressed the importance of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral and its cooperation with the United States.
Amb. Evangelos Savva of Cyprus – participating in his first CHIA event – and Ambassador Theodore Bizakis, the Charge d’affaires of the Greek Embassy – -participating in his final CHIA event, were joined by Eliav Benjamin, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Israeli Embassy in addressing the Members of Congress and the audience.
Yet the most powerful moment of the evening came when the daughters of two of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas addressed the audience. Endy Zemenides – reminding everyone of the issue of the missing in Cyprus – expressed the Greek American community’s empathy and support: “Our voice will be your voice and we will fight to save your loved ones from the fate of our Missing.”
“The Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance continues to highlight the strong relationship and growing cooperation between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus and last week’s show of solidarity with the hostages being held by Hamans, and the Israeli people as a whole is an embodiment of this special relationship,” said AJC CEO Ted Deutch. “The most important message we can all send now is that we will not rest until every single person who was kidnapped by Hamas is returned home, safely, to their loved ones.”
According to Endy Zemenides, “CHIA was groundbreaking when it was formed because it was the first regional caucus in Congress. It – and its members – contributed to all the diplomatic initiatives that took hold in the Eastern Mediterranean. That diplomatic progress, that spirit of cooperation, was also attacked on October 7 by Hamas and its enablers in Tehran, Doha and Ankara.”
The next day, visits to a dozen Congressional offices and committees took place while Washington started shining the spotlight on Turkey’s ties to Hamas. Congressmen Chris Pappas and Gus Bilirakis led a bipartisan group of 45 lawmakers who wrote to Secretary of State Blinken asking him to hold the Republic of Turkey accountable for its role in supporting and facilitating the operations of Hamas.
HALC – having worked for months with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) for months to highlight these ties – mobilized in partnership with FDD Action and the Middle East Forum to secure support for the Pappas/Bilirakis letter.
And while they were advocating for that letter, Erdogan expressed further support for Hamas, which allowed HALC to use its Congressional visits to also get support for a joint letter by the Hellenic Caucus, Armenian Caucus, Israel Allies Caucus, and Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus condemning Erdogan’s statements on Hamas.
During these meetings on the Hill, CHIA members also addressed a wide array of issues. They argued that Turkey’s recent stance towards Israel once again highlights its unreliability as an ally and questioned whether it should be rewarded with new F-16s from the United States. Additionally, CHIA members raised concerns about the delayed official congressional notification regarding the Greek F-35s, which, according to the American side, remains pending mainly due to technical reasons.
This delay is attributed mainly to a bureaucratic vacuum in the State Department over the last six months. This vacuum began with the departure of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Karen Donfried, and continued through the succession process for Foreign Secretary Wendy Sherman, which was only finalized in September.
The position will now be filled by Kurt Campbell, replacing Victoria Nuland, who has been serving as the acting deputy secretary until now. It’s no secret in Washington that Ms. Nuland had her sights on this position, and her relationship with Kurt Campbell hasn’t always been smooth.
For many observers, this development raises uncertainties about the future of the experienced diplomat, speculating that she may seek new opportunities beyond the US State Department.
What is certain, however, is that the choice of the former National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator and the key figure behind the Obama administration’s strategic shift towards the Pacific, known as “The Pivot,” reflects the priorities set by Washington.