Syriza was a popular leftist political party which was swept to power in Greek elections on its promise to end years of IMF-and EU-imposed austerity.
By now, though, the party’s leadership has sold out its principles, implementing the very same austerity it was elected to oppose, even after a massive “No” vote in a summer referendum on a new bailout that came with further severe austerity conditions.
This led to the departure of Yanis Varifakis, the finance minister, and a big split, with many leaving to form a breakaway party. Tsipras did manage to come back to power in new elections though, albeit on a reduced mandate.
As I have written before, in power the Syriza-led government has reneged on other promises too, such as those of its once anti-militarist foreign policy. Their electoral manifestos once included the promise of “abolition of military cooperation with Israel.” In power, their government in fact continued the joint military exercises with Israel that began under the conservative government in 2009.
During a visit to Israel in July, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias even said that Greeks needed to “learn to love Israel” and disgracefully called Israel part of a “line of stability” in the region – something that will some as news to the friends and relatives of those 551 Palestinian children murdered by Israeli during its summer 2014 war against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
This was a climb-down by the Syriza-led government on previously decent Syriza policy, much as it has made fundamental reversals of policy in domestic economic matters.
But Syriza as a leftist movement put some distance between itself and its government’s contacts with Israel: Defence Minister Panos Kammenos was from the Independent Greeks (a right-wing coalition partner) and Kotzias is an independent.
Or it did put such distance until this week. As of now, the Syriza U-turn on Israel is complete.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went on his first ever visit to Israel this week. And it constituted far more than what some may argue was necessary diplomatic contact (though I’d disagree with even that, personally). Tsipras went to discuss increasing economic links with Israel, including the export of recently-discovered offshore natural gas to Europe.
Tsipras also reinforced Zionist mythology by claiming that “our peoples are very ancient.” In fact, Israel was founded only in 1948, on top of the mass graves of Palestinians killed during the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine from its native inhabitants: the Nakba, or Catastrophe. Israel is, in essence, a European settler-colonial state, which latches onto Bible stories to use as foundational myths for its illegitimate state.
Tsipras met with accused war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, in a jovial press conference, in which both sides gushed about ” a natural affinity between the Israelis and the Greeks.”
Perhaps most disgustingly of all, Tsipras went even further in his grovelling to Israel than any other European leader by recognising the illegal 1967 Israeli annexation of Jerusalem (which was formalised in 1980). Tsipras signed the guest book of Israeli President Reuben Rivlin saying it was a “great honour to be in your historic capital”.
In fact, the annexation of Jerusalem is illegal under international law and no state in the world recognises its legitimacy. Even states that do have diplomatic relations with Israel maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, in recognition of this fact.
That Tsipras went above and beyond in this regard is shameful. Israeli diplomats were quick to recognise this, with one calling it “unprecedented, especially for a European leader.”
By now, considering everything that has happened in Greece, perhaps this should come as no surprise. But it is disappointing, nonetheless, for many in Greece and in Europe, who had even a small degree of hope that Tsipras and his party would bring something new and genuine to the world of politicians and parliaments.
The whole sorry story is a precautionary tale for those of us – certainly including myself – who have invested some degree of hope in Jeremy Corbyn and a newly revitalised Labour party. The situations in Britain and in Greece are very different in many ways, and Labour is certainly not a new party like Syriza.
Nonetheless, these matters do bring to the fore fundamental questions and contradictions relating to the influence that popular movements can have governments and mainstream political parties. When politicians and unelected cabals like the EU and the IMF increasing overturn the clearly-expressed democratic will of the people, it is no wonder that people are fundamentally sceptical about their governments and states.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.