Antisemitism in Greece

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Antisemitism in Greece manifests itself in religious, political and media discourse. The recent Greek government-debt crisis has facilitated the rise of far right groups in Greece, most notably the formerly obscure Golden Dawn.

Jews have lived in Greece since the antiquity, but the largest community of around 20,000 Sephardic Jews settled in Thessalonica after an invitation from the Ottoman Sultan in the 15th century. Greece was one of the first states to accord full civil and political rights to the Jews, and they were well integrated in the 19th century. After Thessalonica was annexed to Greece in 1913, the Greek government recognized Jews as Greek citizens with full rights and attributed Judaism the status of a recognized and protected religion. In nowadays Greece, Jewish communities representing the 5,000 Greek Jews are legal entities under public law. They come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, according to Law No. 2456/1920 "On Jewish Communities".[1][2] The small Greek Jewish community represents only a tiny minority out of a total population of 10.5 million, which is overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox Christian by faith. The eminent position of the Orthodox church, as well as the nationalist ideas that dominated public discourse for the last century in Greece, left little space for unsanctioned ethnic, cultural or national diversity.[3]

History of antisemitism in Modern Greece[edit]

Religious antisemitism[edit]

Greeks consider Byzantium to be an integral part of their national history, following the Ancient Greek period and immediately preceding the country's modern revival in the early 19th century. Christianity played a critical role in preserving Greek national identity during four centuries of Ottoman rule, the Greek War of Independence, and the creation of a sovereign Greek state. Although there is legal separation of Church and State, and the latter cannot interfere in the internal affairs of the Church, Orthodox Christianity is enshrined in the Constitution as the dominant faith of the land (but freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed as well). The great majority of country's traditional population is Christian Orthodox and religion is an integral part of Greek life. Therefore, the religious and ethnic homogeneity of the Greek population is so strong that it became difficult for minorities to integrate into the broader society. To this day, for example, many people have difficulty understanding how one can be Greek and Jewish at the same time (hence, many Greeks find it difficult to conceive that someone can be Greek without being of Greek Orthodox faith).[4][5]

While the Greek Orthodox Church formally condemns antisemitism some elements within the church continue to espouse antisemitic and anti-Zionist views, and have published literature on the subject. In 1980 Panteleimon Caranikolas, the Metropolitan of Corinth, published an antisemitic book entitled Jews and Christians, in which he wrote about the "power of the Jews [who] suck the blood of the people". He considered the Jews to be citizens of the "State of Jewish theocracy [Israel] and the World Zionist State" rather than their respective countries of origin, and suggested that the Jews should be "grateful to Christians" for the opportunity to live in predominantly Christian lands. In addition, he blamed the Jews for any prejudice against themselves, and cited as a source for many of his arguments The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic hoax. Some ostensibly religious organizations such as Kosmas Flamiatos and St. Agathangelos Esfigmenites have published circulars which claim to have uncovered "anti-Greek," "Zionist" or "Jewish" conspiracies in the past, and have urged the deportation of traitors such as the Jews, Masons, and Jehovah's Witnesses from Orthodox Greece.

During the 1990s, all citizens of the European Economic Community (EEC) were to be issued new, eight-digit identification cards. As a result, ultra-religious groups in Greece have expressed fears that the cards will include the "666" - the sign of the antichrist. Since 1992, graffiti and posters have warned against the "new IDs of the Jews and Masons" who supposedly control the EEC; a nun in Kozari wrote Jewish Identification Cards, in which Jews were described as "an abominable, murderous race" foreign to Greece and an instrument of Satan.[5] Later on, in the year of 2000, following the Greek government's decision to remove the reference to "religion" from the national identity card, the Orthodox Church insisted that religious affiliation be included in it. When the Greek government was obliged by the EU to remove such references, it was vilified by church leaders for "bowing to Jewish pressure," mentioning by name such organizations as the American Jewish Committee. The Archbishop (of Athens and All Greece) Christodoulos waged a campaign against the reforms and mobilized thousands of Greek citizens in mass protest rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki. These were followed by a series of antisemitic attacks motivated by notions of a "Jewish Plot," including the extensive desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the Athens synagogue, and the defacement of Jewish monuments and private properties with slogans as swastikas[4]

Political antisemitism[edit]

During the 1980s and the 1990s, there were three main political forces in Greece: The conservative New Democracy party, the socialist PASOK party and the Communist party. Party politics in Greece have naturally played a role in each side's view of the State of Israel, and since Greeks often confuse the terms “Israeli” and “Israelite” anti-Israel or anti-Zionist remarks have often developed into anti-Jewish attacks and contributed to the creation of an antisemitic climate. Although the socialist party PASOK typically denounced antisemitism, it too was sometimes embroiled in anti-Jewish controversy. Only months before PASOK's rise to power in 1981, a Greek Jew, Raphael Moissis, was appointed head of the state-owned power company. It was immediately alleged that Moissis has served as a major in the Israeli army during the 67' War and the 73' War and his civil loyalty to Greece was questioned. PASOK MPs brought the issue before Parliament, suggesting that "Moissis's activities render him unsuitable to run even the least important public enterprise, let alone the strategically significant power company". In 1982 following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in a public statement, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, a close friend of Yasser Arafat, openly compared the Israelis to the Nazis. Later, in an attempt to repair the damage, he declared in 1983 that "Greek Jews are an integral part of the Greek people and the government is determined to take whatever measures necessary to deal with anisemitic incidents". That same year, however, PASOK MP Koutsoyannis inundated the Greek Parliament with a nearly incoherent flood of antisemitic remarks. These remarks were made in the presence of the Prime Minister and the speaker was heartily applauded by his socialist colleagues. Unlike PASOK, the conservative New Democracy Party has shown sensitivity towards problems of an antisemitic nature. In 1982, for example, it was five conservative MPs who brought the issue of antisemitism to Parliament following indiscriminate leftist attacks on Israel and on Greek Jews alike.[5]

Antisemitism in the media[edit]

Henry Kissinger is often blamed for his handles in Cyprus dispute and has turned as an excuse for antisemitism in Greece.

The media has played a key role in disseminating the "new antisemitism" in Greece. The oldest and most notorious antisemitic newspaper is the low-circulation daily Stochos, which published the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in their entirety in serial form. A front page story in 1987 called the Jewish festival of Hanukkah "a celebration of hatred against Greeks," while a 1988 cover featured a picture of Israeli soldiers under the title "The Beasts Who Crucified Christ Are Now Exterminating the Orthodox." In its pages, "Zionists" have been accused of leading the young into homosexuality and drug use, and the paper questions the allegiance of Greek Jews to their native land. Stochos at one point was engaged in something of a contest of antisemitism with a competing low circulation far-right daily, Eleftheri Ora, with each reproaching the other for not being eager enough in its fight against the Jews in a near-comical swap of accusations. Eleftheri Ora's publisher, G. Michalopoulos, also publishes a smaller paper, Nei Anthropi, in which a typical front page article was entitled "Jewish Human Sacrifice," and providing "proof" of the familiar blood libel.[5]

A deluge of antisemitic editorial, cartoons, comments, and even letters to the editor appeared in the mainstream press during March and, especially, April 2002, inspired by the escalating violence in Israel (particular offenders were Eleftherotypia, Ta Nea and Ethnos). Besides traditional caricatures of Jews, Holocaust equations became increasingly strident. Ramallah was depicted as a Nazi concentration camp or the Warsaw Ghetto, Ariel Sharon, Israel's PM as a Jewish Hitler, and Israeli soldiers as Nazi militia or demonic forces. Israeli soldiers were prominently depicted using Stars of David, yarmulkes, and Nazi swastikas. Yasser Arafat was portrayed as Christ and the Palestinians always as wretched victims: persecuted wartime Jews, concentration camp inmates, Christian prophets, Greek revolutionaries, or even ancient Greek heroes. The majority of the rhetoric and imagery contained direct references to religion and “the Jews,” with some attacks on Greek Jews, specifically, for their collective responsibility. The unilateral view of the Arab-Israeli conflict created an unlikely union comprising the extreme right, the ultra-nationalists, and the Church together with the intellectual left and the Communists. Holocaust analogies and distinctions between antisemitism and “anti-Zionism” were used to legitimize racism. In some cases, leftist and mainstream forums made no pretense of their traditional antisemitic sentiments.[6] The standoff at the Church of the Nativity and the Greek Orthodox Easter season generated many analogies between the role of Jews (Israelis) in the Crucifixions of Christ (Arafat) and the Prophets (Palestinians).[2][4] In April 2003 major newspapers ran a completely fabricated story that the Israeli Army was responsible for selling organs removed from dead Palestinians. In the Greek media, Israel is still regularly portrayed as a "Nazi" state, while Greek Jewry finds itself attacked for not "taking a stand against the genocide of the Palestinian people by Sharon". Nevertheless, in the past few years, the Greek government has sought to pressure the media to tone down its inflammatory rhetoric, and announced that it would establish January 27 as a national day of remembrance for Greek Jews who died in the Holocaust.[3]

During 2006, anti-Israel feeling revived and escalated with the outbreak of the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and the Hizballah. Leading media organs promoted the image of Israel as a Nazi state, which was attacking unarmed, helpless people in South Lebanon. Hizballah combatants were often described as 'freedom fighters' and 'resistance groups', while antisemitic references, as well as comparisons with the Holocaust, were common.[7] In 2009, during the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian, leading newspaper Eleftherotypia ran a story comparing Israel to the Nazi regime and accusing it of genocide. On numerous occasions since, Eleftherotypia, among other newspapers, has featured editorial cartoons depicting Israeli soldiers in uniforms with swastikas.[8][9] On January 5, Apogevmatini, another major daily, ran a banner headline accusing Israel of a "Holocaust". Following that, AJC expressed alarm at prominent displays of antisemitism in the Greek media during the ongoing conflict, and urged their condemnation by Greek political and religious leaders. "There is a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic demonization of Jews, and some Greek media have brazenly and repeatedly crossed that line in recent days," said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. "The press has the freedom to publish, but government and civil society have the obligation to speak out against hate. We call upon Greek political and religious leaders to condemn such displays of antisemitism, and to make clear that they are as unacceptable during the current conflict as always".[10]

Current situation[edit]

One of the causes of anti-Zionism and antisemitism in Greece has been the strong Greek desire to solidify ties with the Arab World, in order to counterbalance the Turkish-Israeli alliance. In recent years there has been great improvement in Greece-Israel relations, particularly following the disintegration of Turkey-Israel relations after the Gaza flotilla raid. In August 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Greece. On his two-day tour, the Prime Minister discussed with the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou the possibility of expanding strategic ties and establishing greater cooperation between the nations' militaries and related industries.[11] It is yet to be seen what affect this geopolitical change will have on Antisemitism in Greece. While Greek Jews today largely "live side by side in harmony" with Christian Greeks, according to Giorgo Romaio, president of the Greek Committee for the Jewish Museum of Greece,[12] there has recently been an increased effort to work with other Greeks, and Jews worldwide, to combat any rise of antisemitism in Greece. Despite these efforts, on February 7 it was found out that Theodoros Karypidis, a candidate from Syriza (the second-largest party in Greece) had accused the country’s prime minister of heading a Jewish conspiracy. When Antonis Samaras, Greece's Prime Minister, visited the Thessaloniki Synagogue as part of the commemorations marking the destruction of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki by the Nazis, Karypidis remarked, “Samaras is lighting the candles in the seven branched candelabra of the Jews and lighting Greece on fire.... He is organizing a new Hanukkah against the Greeks." A spokesman for Samaras condemned the comments and Karypidis faced criticism internally with the Syriza party, which has a strong anti-racist platform; the party called a special meeting to address the issue.[13] Towards the end of 2014 Panos Kammenos, the founder of the right-wing party Independent Greeks made an antisemitic comment during an interview, saying that "Jews don't pay taxes"[14]

Besides the antisemitism in politics, there have been instances of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated (Kos, July 19, 2013;[15] Thessaloniki, October 30, 2011;[16] Kavala, June 13, 2010[17]). During 2011 a synagogue and a Holocaust memorial were also sprayed with antisemitic graffiti.[18][19] Towards the end of June 2014, a threatening graffito was found on the Athens Holocaust memorial. The graffito said, "Paragraph X-2 of hilkoth akum in the Talmud states, it is proper to kill Jews who have been baptized...Otherwise we shall destroy the synagogue for you". [20] Two more antisemitic graffiti were scrawled towards the end of 2014. In Thessaloniki a monument dedicated to the old Jewish cemetery was covered with anti-Israeli messages,[21] and in Larissa the Jewish cemetery was desecrated with antisemitic slogans.[22]

On April 2015 Dimitris Kammenos, a MP for the right-wing Independent Greeks party, responded on a Tweet by Russian news-site RT about antisemitism in Europe with the question: "Have you recorded the attacks of Jews against all of us?".[23]

The rise of the "far right"[edit]

Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) was a fringe movement when founded in the early 1980s and remained so until 2009. In the 2009 elections, it garnered a meager 0.23 percent of the vote. In 2010, it won a seat on the Athens City Council and in the June 2012 election it received 6.92 percent of the national vote - thus becoming the fifth largest party currently in the parliament. According to an October poll (in 2012), if elections were held then, Golden Dawn would gain no less than 14 percent of the vote, making it Greece's third-largest party. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras described Golden Dawn as "a right-wing extremist, one might say Fascist, neo-Nazi party". With its violence against immigrants, swastika-like emblem and Nazi salute, its aggressive rallies, and unabashed references to Mein Kampf, as well as its propagation of literature touting the racial superiority of the Greeks, promoting Aryan supremacy, racist and antisemitic ideology, and Holocaust denial,[24][25] the party is the linear heir of the German National Socialists. Nevertheless, Golden Dawn does not regard itself as a Nazi or even neo-Nazi party (although couple of pictures published on August 8, 2013 revealed a swastika's tattoo on Elias Kasidiàris shoulder[26] ), but simply as a nationalist formation, the members of which seek to rescue Greece for the Greeks - with its nationalist rhetoric, the party appeals to Greek pride. On June 17, 2012, eighteen members of Golden Dawn were sworn into the Boule ton Ellenon (Greek parliament). In so doing, it has arguably become the most extreme right-wing political party to have won parliamentary seats in Europe in recent years.[27] In 2002, marked by an wave of antisemitic manifestations, the most disturbing was the electoral success of George Karatzaferis, the leader of the ultra-nationalist LAOS party. Karatzaferis was one of the most outspoken promoter of antisemitism in Greek public life, and often used his television channel, TeleAsty, which was granted an official license, to voice antisemitic, racist and nationalist propaganda. He also owned the weekly newspaper Alpha Ena, both of which, along with the LAOS party, were singled out as the major disseminators of the September 11th libel in Greece.[4][28][29][30][31]

On January 2014, thousands of pictures and videos were found at one of the Golden Dawn MP's. They carried antisemitic rhetoric and included photos of party members performing the Nazi salute or violent acts.[32] Earlier, on May 2013, Golden Dawn MP was ejected from Parliament chamber after few "Hail Hitler" calls were heard.[33]

On March 2, 2014, a doctor who is a member of the Golden Dawn party, had put a plaque outside his office which said, in German, "Jews Not Welcome". A search by authorities retrieved 12 knives and three daggers, two inscribed with Nazi symbols, and he was arrested.[34]

The Orthodox Church[edit]

The Orthodox Church has yet to officially absolve the Jews for the death of Christ. Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies still contain verses in which collective guilt for the death of Jesus is ascribed to the Jews. Antisemitism is also retained in popular Easter customs. According to Professor Frangiski Abatzopoulou of the University of Thessaloniki, the Burning of Judas Iscariot (the Holy Thursday custom of the "Kapsimo tou Youda") is the "most familiar and widespread manifestation of traditional anti-Semitism in Greece". She notes that "the accusation [against the Jews] for 'theoktonia,' reactivated through liturgy, cannot be examined in the framework of rationalism given that it is inscribed in religious experience". But, she stresses, "it can be examined in relation to the mechanism of scapegoating, which constructs the 'Jew' as guilty not only for 'theoktonia' but for all the other suffering in the world as well".[4]

The Arab-Israeli conflict[edit]

The pro-Palestinian sympathies of the Greek people are partly explained as an emotional identification with the perceived "underdog" and a strong democratic reaction against perceived injustice. Some[who?] consider this argument to be inconsistent with the country's position on other conflicts (for example, Greece's support of Serbs in the Bosnian war). Some Greek media outlets express resentment towards the United States, alternately seen as the puppet or puppeteer of Israel. Antisemitism in contemporary Greek politics is often linked to anti-Americanism. There remains a popular notion that the Israeli Lobby exerts an extroridanary influence over American foreign policy.[35] This view was reinforced by Israel's alliance with Turkey, as well as Greece's own commercial links to the Arab world.[4][28][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Levy, Richard S. "Antisemitism in modern Greece". H-Net. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 - 2003" (PDF). EUMC. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Wistrich, Robert S. "European Anti-Semitism Reinvents Itself" (PDF). The American Jewish Committee. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "ANTI-SEMITISM IN GREECE A CURRENT PICTURE: 2001-2002". The Balkan Human Rights Web Pages. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Perdurant, Daniel. "Antisemitism in Contemporary Greek Society". SICSA - The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "GREECE 2002-3". The Stephen Ruth Institute for The Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "GREECE 2006". The Stephen Ruth Institute for The Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Rasicm. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "GREECE 2008/9". The Stephen Ruth Institute for The Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Rasicm. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "GREECE 2009". The Stephen Ruth Institute for The Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  10. ^ "AJC Alarmed by Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in Greek Media". AJC. Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Current Activities of the Jewish Museum of Greece, The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. URL accessed April 15, 2006.
  13. ^ "Greek politician accuses prime minister of heading Jewish conspiracy". CFCA. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  14. ^ "Politician claimed Jews don’t pay taxes". CFCA. Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  15. ^ "Cemetery desecrated". CFCA. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "Antisemitic graffiti on a cemetery". CFCA. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "Greece – Cemetery desecrated in Kavala". CFCA. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  18. ^ "Holocaust memorial desecrated". CFCA. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  19. ^ "Synagogue desecrated". cfca. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  20. ^ "Threatening graffiti defaces Athens Holocaust memorial". CFCA. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  21. ^ "Jewish cemetery monument vandalized with anti-Israeli graffiti". CFCA. Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  22. ^ "Jewish cemetery desecrated". CFCA. Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  23. ^ "MP tweets about 'attacks of Jews against all of us"". CFCA. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  24. ^ "Greek lawmaker suggests in Parliament he is a Holocaust denier". CFCA. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  25. ^ "New Holocaust denial from Golden Dawn MP". CFCA. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  26. ^ "Swastika tattoo on Elias Kasidiàris shoulder". CFCA. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Navoth, Michal. "The Greek Elections of 2012: The Worrisome Rise of the Golden Dawn" (PDF). Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  28. ^ a b "Anti-Semitism in Greece: Embedded in Society". Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  29. ^ Preposterous rumor that 4000 Jews had been warned and did not go to their offices on September 11th, the day of the terror attack in New York
  30. ^ "GREECE 2001-2". The Stephen Ruth Instutite for The Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  31. ^ According to a television opinion poll conducted 17-18/10/2001, five weeks after the circulation of the rumor that Jews working in the twin towers in New York knew of the terrorist attack, by KAPA Research among 622 households in the Greater Athens Area for the TV program "Protagonistes" aired on 18 October 2001 on NET, showed that 42% subscribed to this rumour, as opposed to 30% who did not
  32. ^ Smith, Helena (17 January 2014). "Golden Dawn photos shock Greece". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  33. ^ "Golden Dawn MP first to be ejected from Parliament chamber for years". CFCA. CFCA. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  34. ^ "Greek doctor arrested for inciting anti-Jewish hatred, weapons possession". CFCA. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  35. ^ Much anti-Americanism originates in residual sentiments from the days of the Greek civil war, when American support of right-wing resistance fighters helped keep communist resistance groups from gaining control of the country. The military dictatorship, which ruled Greece from 1967 until democracy was fully restored in 1974, and was backed by the United States, has led to additional resentment against the United States. Moreover, many Greeks also perceive that after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Americans supported Turkey in many respects.
  36. ^ 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. Nevertheless in last few years, due to the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel around the Gaza flotilla raid, the military cooperation between Greece and Israel has been upgraded

Further reading[edit]

  • Ψαρράς, Δημήτρης (2013). Το μπεστ σέλερ του μίσους: Τα "Πρωτόκολλα των σοφών της Σιών" στην Ελλάδα, 1920-2013 [The bestseller of hate: the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in Greece, 1920-2013] (in Greek). Athens: ΠΟΛΙΣ. 
  • Stricker laws relating to racism in Greece [1]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Greece passes bill making holocaust-denial illegal, tougher anti-racism laws". CFCA. Retrieved 29 September 2014.