Anti-Semitism in the European Union: Greece
(Updated September 2014)
In Greece, population 10 million, the 5,000 Jews represent a small minority (3,000, mainly in Athens, and 1,000 in Thessaloniki). Despite denials on the part of most Greek opinion leaders and leaders of the Greek Jewish community, anti-Semitism does seem to exist in Greece, perhaps not so much in social behaviour, but rather as a latent structure. The Orthodox Church continues to include in the liturgy ritual of Good Friday anti-Jewish references and also the religious prejudices against “the Christ killers” remain virulent. Anti-Semitic rhetoric in Greece usually takes the form of opposition to a conspiratorial conception of “Zionism,” interpreted as a “Jewish plot for world domination.” Latent prejudices and bigotry became evident during the last two years over the issue of having religion included on Greek identity cards. When the Greek government according to EU standards removed this reference it was vilified for “bowing to Jewish pressure”. Although all mainstream political parties denounce anti-Semitism, they sometimes also exhibit a curiously strong anti-Semitism seemingly confused with an anti-Israeli and anti-American stance. This form of anti-Semitism was reinforced by Israel’s alliance with Turkey, an alliance that led Greece to reinforce its links with the Arab world. Despite their close affiliation to the United States, successive post-war governments and even the Junta followed a foreign policy unfavourable to Israel, which as an ally of Turkey was seen as a potential enemy. The state of Israel was only recognised de-jure by the conservative New Democracy government of Prime Minister K. Mitsotakis in 1990, partly as a result of the Greek involvement in the Gulf War and partly as a result of the ongoing peace process in the Middle East. Populist elements within all political parties still continue to engage in the anti-Semitic rhetoric that stresses the conspiratorial element. Nearly all these prejudices and popular demonising fortified the barriers in the social relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish Greeks.
1. Physical acts of violence
Several Jewish sites were vandalised and defaced with Nazi slogans and graffiti in the last few years, for example the Jewish cemetery in Athens (on 25-26 May 2000) and the Holocaust Memorial and the synagogue in Thessaloniki. In part the only active neo-Nazi group Chrissi Agvi is responsible for these attacks. The al-Aqsa Intifada set off a series of small pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which, however, all went ahead without any outbreaks of violence. During the period covered by the report no physical attacks on Jews or Jewish organisations or incidents concerning them have been reported.
However, we would like to note that only a month before the following incidents were recorded by ANTIGONE, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and by other NGOs. On 15 and 16 April 2002 the Holocaust Memorial in Thessaloniki was vandalised by person(s) unknown who sprayed red paint on the wreaths, which had been laid two days previously in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and on the surrounding area. The word “Palestinians” was written in paint nearby. The incident occurred a day after a large pro-Palestinian demonstration had been held in Thessaloniki. The Central Jewish Board of Greece wrote to the Minister of Public Order asking for measures to be taken to guard these sites more effectively in the future and to publicly condemn the incidents. The Government (on 17 April), political parties and the Orthodox Church strongly condemned the incident. On 15 April 2002, the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in Northern Greece was vandalised by person(s) unknown with Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti slogans. The cemetery had already been desecrated on 16 January 2002. The Greek Government, political parties and the Orthodox Church condemned the incident in strong terms. On 18 April the Holocaust Memorial of Drama in northern Greece and the Jewish cemetery of Zavlani in Patras (southern Greece) were vandalised with Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti slogans. The Greek Government, political parties and the Orthodox Church condemned the incident.
2. Verbal aggression/hate speech
The rumour, first published by some newspapers of the Arab press, that 4000 Jews had been warned by the Israeli Secret Service Mossad and did not go to their offices on 11 September, the day of the terrorist attack in New York, was tabled as a question in Parliament by MP and leader of the ultra nationalist party “LAOS” G. Karatzaferis soon after the attack. Print and broadcast media – even the Bulletin of the Technical Chamber of Greece (8 October, 2001) – reported this rumour as well. According to a poll conducted five weeks after the event, 42% of Greeks subscribed to this rumour, as opposed to 30% who rejected it. The Central Jewish Board and the Israeli Embassy protested to politicians and the press. In a statement the Union of Athens Press Journalists mentioned the small television station “Tele Asty” (which is owned by Karatzaferis and spread the anti-Semitic rumours) as a special case of racist behaviour towards the Jews. It should also be noted that most newspapers reported this rumour ironically and not in an anti-Semitic way.
The Chairman of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in his written reply to the National Focal Point’s request for information has included a number of cartoons published in national dailies that may be considered as insulting to Jews.
This has been reported in the previous section under “Vandalism and Disparagement”. There have been no other reported graffiti or other anti-Semitic inscriptions by human rights NGOs.
On 2 April the two largest dailies Ta Nea and Elefterotypia (center-left) as well as the right-wing daily Apogevmatini printed as unquestionable reality a heinous libel that Israelis were trafficking the organs of dead Palestinian fighters and performing medical experiments on Arab prisoners.
The Chairman of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in his written reply to the National Focal Point’s request for information has stressed that “there is a conscious attempt to create an anti-Semitic climate by various articles that are critical of the policies pursued by Israel and personally its Prime Minister”; he specifically pointed out two articles that put forward the view that Jews have excessively used the pain resulting from the cruelty of the Holocaust published during the period in question:
- “Auschwitz and Palestine”, published in the daily national newspaper Kathimerini on 2 June 2002.
- “The excessive use of the Holocaust”, published in the daily national newspaper Kathimerini on 4 June 2002. He also pointed out that cartoons with anti-Semitic content have appeared in newspapers during the period in question and in previous months.
A small number of commentators, who frequently appear on small TV stations like the ultra right wing Tele-Asty and Extra Channel expressing anti-Semitic views, are not considered “opinion leaders” and their influence is very small. The popular composer Mikis Theodorakis wrote an editorial for the Greek daily TO VIMA in which he claimed that the Jews are “imitating the Nazi savagery” and that they are “enchanted by the Nazi methods”.
1997 the Hellenic Nationalist Page published an anti-Semitic diatribe on its Internet site, entitled “New Zionist Attack against Hellenism” which is still on their homepage. Taking issue with phrases in the ad referring to the Maccabean victory over the Greeks, the article accused the Jews of racism and claimed, falsely, that Rupert Murdoch, owner of the New York Post, was a Jew. The article also reiterated other charges the group had made in the past, such as Jewish collaboration with “the Ottomans in the subjugation of Byzantium,” and the Jews’ promotion of the notion that “they are the only (or at least the most victimised) victim in history.” Further, it questioned the “imaginary 6 million figure” of people who perished in the Holocaust, in contrast to the documented figure of 800,000 Greeks lost in World War II. Similar articles have appeared on this website in recent years. The latest addition (news 2001) presents an article on “The exclusive victims of genocide” which contains similar anti-Semitic stereotypes and refers to another article from 1996 (with a link to be opened) on “Zionists and Mongols – Butchers of Hellenism.”
A photograph surfaced in September 2014 of the police chief of the Greek island called Hydra giving a "nazi salute" while on a trip to Germany. The photo was reportedly taken in 2011 at the Nuremberg Transit Museum. The officer, Lieutenant Yiorgos Kagkalos can be seen in the picture posing in front of a red vehicle boldly painted with the Nazi swastika and other logos. Kagkalos is raising his arm in the stereotypical motion of the nazi salute.
3. Research Studies
Opinion polls carried out after 11 September terrorist attacks showed that a significant proportion of the Greek public readily accepted conspiratorial rumours implicating the Israeli secret services in the attack. There is no reliable scientific data available, but it may be that media reports may have in their critical approach towards Israel’s military operations inadvertently led to a rise in anti-Semitic sentiments among the Greek population.
4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression
Only small examples had been visible: On 6 June the topic in Modern Greek presented in the formal examinations for entry into Greek Universities (Panhellenic Examinations) was an excerpt from the “Diary of Anne Frank”. Students were asked to comment and compare WWII and modern incidents of racism and anti-Semitism. On 28 January 2002 the President of the Republic was visited by the teachers and pupils of the primary school of the Jewish Community of Athens. On 29 January Leon Benmayor, honorary Chairman of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and Holocaust survivor, was honoured with the Golden Cross of the Greek Legion of Honour by the President of the Republic for his contribution to science. There was also an excellent treatment of Zionism as the quest for national identity and a state by the IosPress group of journalists who write for the national daily Eleftherotypia (published on 28 April 2002).
5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders
The Government, political parties and the Orthodox Church have always condemned any anti-Semitic incidents through their official spokespersons and the Government has taken special security measures for safeguarding Jewish establishments. The government on 17 April condemned acts of vandalism at the Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki and the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina.
There have been no particular reactions by politicians or other opinion leaders during the period in question. This brought the Greek Helsinki Monitor/Minority Rights Group to the conviction “that the government has yet to take a strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism. Even extreme anti-Semitic views openly expressed by Orthodox clergy members, politicians, factions, cultural icons, and journalists pass without comment. Attacks on Jewish monuments and property receive little if any attention in the media and faint condemnation by the political and spiritual leadership.” The large majority of politicians and opinion leaders from both the right and the left have been strongly critical of the military offensive against the Palestinian Authority and the following events, but have equally condemned terrorist acts stressing the need for a peaceful settlement and the futility of military solutions. On 31 March the speaker of the Greek Parliament and leading PASOK member Apostolos Kaklamanis condemned Israel for committing genocide against the Palestinian people. The Central Jewish Council expressed its deep regrets “for the unacceptable and unfair comparison” of the Holocaust with Israeli action in the West Bank. During an OSCE parliamentary discussion on current European anti-Semitism on 8 July 2002, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Greek Prime Minister and other Greek leaders to publicly condemn the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and Nazi imagery that has characterised much of the public and media criticism of Israel.
On November 11, 2019, the announced the country had officially adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress;
Benjamin Kerstein, “Top US Jewish Group Lauds Greece for Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism,” Algemeiner, (November 11, 2019).