La Repubblica:Interview with David Harris

Interview with David Harris
February 3, 2012
Note:David Harris is an American - Jewish leader
LR: First of all I would like to ask you the purpose of your visit to Italy. You will be also in other capitals in Europe. What will you discuss with Minister for Foreign Affairs Terzi and Minister for International Cooperation Riccardi?

DH: We are currently on a six-country visit to Europe. Our top priority is engaging with our European friends on the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions. Today, there is widespread understanding in European capitals that an Iran with nuclear-weapons capacity would pose an ominous threat to its neighborhood, both Arab countries and Israel, as well as to Europe and global energy supplies. Ensuring that Iran does not get the bomb is the number one issue on the international agenda.

LR: You know that Italy is facing a big economic crisis. What is the feeling that is coming from the United States about the first steps taken by the new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti?

DH: From every indication, there is great respect for the leadership of Prime Minister Monti. He faces an enormous challenge, and has to date confronted it both professionally and pragmatically. Having lived in Italy, having an Italian wife and sons, and feeling a deep attachment to Italy, I wish the prime minister and his team every success in the difficult period ahead.

LR: The United States is facing an important election year. You have always defended President Barack Obama from attacks received from Jews. Why?

DH: AJC is a strictly non-partisan organization. We don't take sides in political campaigns. We focus on policies, not parties or personalities. We support when we agree, and we differ when we don't, but we always seek to act in a reasoned way that advances civil debate, which isn't otherwise always the case, I'm sorry to say, in the political arena in America these days.

LR: Anti-Semitism is still, and unfortunately, a big problem for Europe. What is your receipt against racism?

DH: I wish there were a single answer to the menace of anti-Semitism, but this oldest of social pathologies shows remarkable resistance to a cure. Still, there are recipes. First, democratic, as opposed to authoritarian, societies are a good place to start. Second, education for mutual understanding between groups can teach people at a young age what tolerance means. Third, religious leaders should teach mutual respect between faith groups.
Fourth, political leaders should be quick and unequivocal in confronting acts of racism, including anti-Semitism. Fifth, law enforcement and the judiciary should respond with determination to intimidation and violence in the name of racism. And sixth, where do children learn to hate? In the home? In a house of worship? On the internet? Parents should be vigilant and instill in their children the importance of welcoming the "other" and learning, as the Bible teaches us, to "love thy neighbor as thyself."

LR: There is a big issue regarding the future of Europe, which is the possible entry of Turkey, which is currently playing an important geo-political role in the whole region. It is also a Muslim country. What is the feeling of AJC about this issue?

DH: I recall when French President Jacques Chirac asked President George W. Bush to keep his opinions on Turkey's possible EU membership to himself. The question of Turkish EU accession is, at the end of the day, a European, not an American, decision, with profound implications, one way or the other, for Europe. I will follow Chirac's advice.

LR: Do you believe the problems between Turkey and Israel after the Mavi Marmara case will be soon resolved? Ankara is strongly asking for apologies from Jerusalem and will not step down from this position.

DH: As a long-time friend of Turkey, I am saddened by the turn of events, which, it should be stressed, began before the regrettable Mava Marmara incident. The Turkish prime minister started distancing himself from Israel some time ago, while drawing closer to other countries, including Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya. Maybe now that he sees recent events in these countries, he will realize that his policy is not necessarily benefiting Turkey and needs reconsideration. At the end of the day, Turkey and Israel have much to gain from strong ties. If the prime minister does reconsider, I have no doubt that any outstanding issues can be resolved.

LR: It seems that Israel could be ready to start a military attack against Iran about its nuclear threat. Do you believe it will come sooner or later?

DH: It is the stated policy of the United States and leading European nations to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability. The credibility of these countries is at stake. If they fail, it will have profound geopolitical consequences for years, if not decades, to come. Therefore, to focus on Israel and what it may or may not feel compelled to do misses the larger point of what the U.S. and Europe might or might not feel compelled to do. Let's remember that Iran is not uniquely an Israeli problem, far from it.

LR: The so-called Arab Spring seems to stop its effect, by now. What is the feeling of Jewish people about the new scenario in the Middle East?

DH: Everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, surely should hope for a new day in the Arab world. For too long, this region has suffered from three glaring deficits identified by the UN Arab Human Development Report -- a freedom deficit, a gender deficit, and a knowledge deficit. Consider that 60 years ago Egypt and South Korea had roughly the same per capita GDP. Look at where both countries are today. It's sad to see Egypt lag so far behind. But hope is an emotion, not a policy. If the Arab world simply replaces one form of stultifying tyranny with another, then an historic chance will have been lost. There are many ways to measure developments. One that we at AJC use is the treatment of minorities. The Jews are largely gone, driven out decades ago by Arab regimes while an indifferent world looked on. Now let's see what happens to Christian communities, such as the Copts in Egypt. If they continue to live in fear or feel compelled to leave, don't bet on the future. Conversely, if their rights are respected and protected, perhaps a brighter day is around the corner.

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