The other concern about Greece: Antisemitism

The other concern about Greece: Antisemitism
Voridis and Georgiadis

Greece has been repeatedly in the headlines in recent months for one simple reason – because of that small country’s massive debt crisis and the huge implications it has for the wider EU. But there’s another reason that the world should be paying attention to Greece.

In Greece, antisemitism seems increasingly to be entering into the mainstream. While Greece has a long history of anti-Jewish sentiments, it may seem surprising that this upsurge is occuring at the present time given that Greece has a very small of Jewish population of 6,000, and Israel and Greece have been forming a stronger relationship over the past couple of years. Some speculate that the recent resurgence is linked to the Greek debt crisis that began in 2009.

The President of the Central Jewish Board of Greece David Saltiel said last year, “We’ve always been under siege by fanatics and far-right political movements here…The fear now is that antisemitism will get worse with the financial crisis.”

AIJAC has previously written a blog post on the far right LAOS political party, which has an antisemitic track record and last year secured ministerial positions in the unity coalition. LAOS party leader Yorgos Karatzaferis has made a number of antisemitic statements, including: “They say that to get ahead you have to be one of three things: a Jew, a homosexual or a communist. We are none of these. … Vote for a parliament without free masons, without homosexuals, without those dependent on Zionism.”

Now two senior members of LAOS, Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis are joining Greece’s mainstream conservative party ‘New Democracy’, which is ahead in the polls in the lead up to parliamentary elections scheduled for April. The two parliamentarians stepped down from LAOS after the party refused to back a national austerity bill.

Voridis has suggested that the antisemitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ which promotes a conspiracy of Jewish world domination, might be authentic. He has also reportedly challenged the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary.

Georgiadis has made antisemitc remarks including that “all major banks belong to the Jews” and that “the Jewish lobby” would determine the fate of Greece’s foreign debt. He has also promoted the antisemitic book ‘Jews: The whole truth’ written by the notorious antisemite Konstantinos Plevris, published in 2006.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece expressed “concern and surprise” that Voridis and Georgiadis should be allowed to join the New Democracy. They said: “We hope that the leadership of the New Democracy party […] will take all necessary measures so that such views remain at the margins of the Greek society, and will safeguard the equality of all citizens regardless of race or religion, as provided for by the Constitution”.

The controversy over Plevris’ book also highlights the problems Greece has had in quelling antisemitism.

In the book, Plevris describes himself as “Nazi, fascist, racist, anti-democrat, anti-Semite ” (p. 600), subscribes to the myth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, characterises Jewish children in the concentration camps as “very fat” and “well-fed”, claims that Jews are “subhuman” (p. 583) “mortal enemies”, and criticises the Nazis for “not ridding Europe of Jewish Zionism”. He also states that Jews need to be “rounded-up and executed within 24 hours”, which is “the only way they understand” (p. 742).

In December 2007 Plevris was found guilty of inciting racial hatred by a Greek court based on excerpts and quotations from the book. He appealed the court ruling and on the 27th of March 2009 the court of appeals overturned the ruling of incitement with 4-1 votes. Plevris was cleared on the charge of having caused violence, but it was noted that he was a Holocaust denier.

Bizarrely, the Athens Appeal Court, in explaining its decision to acquit Plevris argued: “The defendant does not revile the Jews solely because of their racial and ethnic origin, but mainly because of their aspirations to world power, the methods they use to achieve these aims, and their conspiratorial activities.”

The Jewish community in Greece expressed shock at the news of Plevris’ acquittal.The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece said:

“This decision saddens and causes concern among citizens of a modern democratic society as a self-confessed advocate of Nazism and racism remains unpunished though he not only distorts proven historical evidence, but even worse, uses his pen to incite hatred and provoke discrimination and violence against citizens of Greece and Europe…Greek Jewry believes that the fundamental constitutional right of freedom of speech has nothing to do with the direct threats, insults and incitement to racial hatred and violence against the Jews that Plevris includes in his book.”

Now according to Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League:

“Plevris is suing Moisis Konstantinis, the former president of the Greek Jewish community, four other prominent Greek Jews, and two human rights activists are scheduled to go on trial starting Feb. 21 on charges of “aggravated defamation,” for calling a self-professed anti-Semite … an anti-Semite!”

This is apparently over the testimony they gave in his original 2007 trial. (The trial has been postponed until December 14, 2012 due to a public sector strike.)

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Greek Helsinki Monitor have also brought a civil suit against Plevris for “insult of Jews” and “injury to Judaism” and brought charges against the newspaper Eleftheros Kosmos, which published extracts of the book.

But in any case, the acquittal, and the claims by the court that it was not illegal to call for the murder of Jews “because of their aspirations to world power, the methods they use to achieve these aims, and their conspiratorial activities” highlighted the Greek justice system’s apparent inability to enforce Greece’s anti-racist legislation.

Meanwhile, the growth of antisemitic rhetoric in Greece has also, in recent years, seen a number of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries desecrated and defaced, as well as monuments built to remember the 65,000 to 67,000 Greek Jews that were killed in the Holocaust.

As public discontent increases in Greece over the austerity measures being imposed as part of EU bailouts, things could well get worse in terms of antisemitism. It’s a situation likely to require close monitoring.

Sharyn Mittelman