Greek soccer player gets life ban for Nazi salute


A Greek soccer player has been banned for life from playing for the national team after giving the Nazi salute during a game.

Giorgos Katidis, 20, who plays for the AEK Athens team, gave the salute after scoring the winning goal in a match on March 15, the same day Greek Jews marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Thessaloniki Jewish community to Auschwitz.

The Greek soccer federation on Sunday barred Katidis from playing for the national team for life, saying that the Nazi salute was a “severe provocation” and an insult to “all the victims of Nazi barbarity.”

Katidis, who used to play for a Thessaloniki team, claimed he was unaware of the meaning of the salute and apologized for his act. “I am not a racist,” he said in a message on Twitter.

In recent months Greece has seen an upsurge in such incidents with the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose members and leaders often give the salutes and employ other Nazi imagery

Speaking at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the deportation of the Thessaloniki Jews, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras vowed to take a harsher stance against neo-Nazis and racists.

Rise of Greece’s Golden Dawn: A presage of doom


The undisguised extremism promoted by Golden Dawn is a chilling watershed in Greece’s postwar democracy. Fascist gangs are turning Athens into a city of shifting front lines, seizing on crimes and local protests to promote their own movement, by claiming to be the defenders of recession-ravaged Greece.

The People’s Association – Golden Dawn — usually referred to simply as Golden Dawn — is a right-wing extremist political organization in Greece. It is led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and has grown considerably since its inception to a widely known Greek political party with nationwide support.

Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party is gaining popularity in the midst of the country’s deepening financial crisis. The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country.

An opinion poll published by KAPA Research in October showed that support for the extremist political group had grown from 7.5 percent of the population in June to 10.4 percent currently.

The Golden Dawn emerged from political obscurity into the mainstream in May after winning 7 percent of the vote in the Greek parliamentary elections. Since then, the country has reportedly witnessed an upsurge in racial violence connected to the right-wing group.

The party entered the international spotlight after some of its members reportedly participated in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Its publication praises the Third Reich and often features photographs of Hitler and other Nazis.

Golden Dawn has manipulated a weak Greek state and disastrous austerity management by European bureaucrats to become, according to recent polls, the third-most popular political party in the country — a noxious omen for the eurozone and a worrying challenge and counterpoint to the very idea of the European Union itself, which received last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Three years ago, Greeks ignored Golden Dawn, seeing its members as neo-Nazi thugs waging war against migrants and giving it a miserable 0.29 percent of the vote. Last year, however, Golden Dawn — rebranded as an anti-austerity party — won nearly 7 percent and secured 18 of the 300 seats in Parliament. Its ascent has continued in opinion surveys despite its parliamentary deputies’ being filmed attacking immigrant vendors and demanding that all non-Greek children be kicked out of day-care centers and hospitals.

As the cash-strapped government struggles to offer its citizens basic services, Golden Dawn has set up parastate organizations to police the streets, donate to Greek-only blood banks and help unemployed Greeks find jobs. The party has also promised to cancel household debt for the unemployed and low-wage earners. “Soon we’ll be running this country,” said Ilias Panagiotaros, a beefy 38-year-old army-supply-shop owner who is now a Golden Dawn parliamentary deputy representing Athens.

Public Love from Fear

“The people love us,” said Panagiotaros, who is among the 18 Golden Dawn members elected to Parliament. Golden Dawn draws much of that love from fear. Greece is now the main entry point for at least 80 percent of the EU’s undocumented immigrants. Frontex, the European Union border-patrolling agency, estimates that 57,000 illegal immigrants slipped into Greece last year and more than 100,000 entered in 2010. Many travel through Turkey, often via a land border that Golden Dawn wants to plant with land mines. Some seek asylum, and because of EU rules, those who want to apply for refugee status must do so in their country of entry — in this case, Greece, which often takes years to review the applications. As Europe turns a blind eye to the immigration crisis, many impoverished foreigners find themselves trapped in an economically crippled country that can’t sustain them.

Some Greeks no longer want to be hospitable. In the past year, gangs of vigilantes, many sporting Golden Dawn’s black shirts, have beaten and stabbed hundreds of migrants, according to human-rights groups.

In June 2012, a number of them broke into the Piraeus home of Abouzeid Mubarak, 28, an Egyptian fisherman, bashing him with iron rods until he fell into a coma. “It was a hate that was inhuman,” said Mubarak, who is still recovering.

Ali Rahimi, a 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was hanging around with friends outside his building in central Athens when more than a dozen Greeks approached. Several men set upon Rahimi, one with a knife. Panicked, he fled into his apartment and fought back, managing to push the men out the door. He found blood gushing from just above his heart, one of five stab wounds in his back and chest.

Rahimi survived and is staying put for now. But his friend, Reza Mohammed, who was also injured in the attack, is considering what was once unthinkable: moving back to Afghanistan, which he feels would be safer than Greece.

Parts of Athens feel like a war zone. Racist gangs cruise the streets at night in search of victims. Themis Skordeli, a member of the group that is accused of stabbing Rahimi, ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on the Golden Dawn ticket.

A few blocks down the street, a crowd was leaving a mosque after Friday prayer. At the mention of Golden Dawn, immigrant men began lifting their shirts to show their scars. A short, sullen-looking young man with a cut across his nose and freshly sutured cheekbone was pushed forward by the crowd. Just the night before, he said, he was beaten and cut with a knife by “fascists.”

“Go into the Omonia police station,” another man said. “You will see how violence is going on.” Several blocks away, I walked into just such a scene. As I stepped out of the elevator at the police station, I saw an officer screaming at a black man and backhanding him hard across the shoulder.

In Athens, Sayd Jafari owns a cafe frequented by fellow Afghans. It has been repeatedly ransacked by mobs of black-clad attackers wielding sticks, chains and knives and gesturing fascist salutes.

Like others who have been assaulted, Jafari is also contemplating returning home to Afghanistan. “There, maybe someone has a bomb hidden on his body that he detonates,” he said. “Here, you don’t see where the knife that kills you comes from.”

It’s now common to see police line up immigrants from South Asia and Africa in public squares and along streets in central Athens. Those without legal-residency permits are arrested and sent to detention centers to be deported.

Police claim they have detained nearly 42,000 people since August, though only about 3,400 were arrested for not having residency papers. They defended the crackdown, which was strongly denounced by human-rights groups, by comparing undocumented immigrants to the Dorian invaders who purportedly brought down the Mycenaeans in 1100 B.C.E.

The most recent example of fascism shown by Golden Dawn in its series of discriminating activities is when it said a visit to Greece by American Jewish Committee leader David Harris is meant to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), led a Jewish delegation to the region to meet with several Greek leaders, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. During the meetings, Harris expressed his “concern and solidarity for Greece during the crisis.”

“The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots — the international loan sharks, who are humiliating the Greek people. His concern most likely is related to the inability of Greece to make the payments of the predatory interest rates of the vile loans,” Golden Dawn said in a statement, adding: “We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”

Its leader, Michaloliakos, uses the “Heil Hitler” salute and has denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps during World War II. Another lawmaker read a passage from the anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” during a parliamentary session.

The attack on Harris and a separate article titled “Absolute Evil” that was published on the party’s Web site in January appeared to be a hardening of Golden Dawn’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, apparently in anger over pressure from Jewish groups to get the Greek government to rein in the party. The “Evil” statement said that blaming Golden Dawn for Greece’s woes constituted an attempt to divert attention from the real culprits for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They are none other than those who possess most of the international wealth. The people behind the international loan-sharks,” the statement said. “Everyone knows they belong to a certain race, which presents itself as a victim, while in reality it is the perpetrator. Everyone knows that they are none other than those pulling the strings behind the marionettes. They are the absolute evil for mankind.”

The second statement ended with a threat.

“The time will come when the nationalists of the Golden Dawn will take revenge like the horsemen of the storm, and all of them, being the absolute evil, will pay!”

Not content to proselytizing in their homeland, Golden Dawn has started to expand worldwide.

Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece — only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn held a Christmas food drive. The catch: It said it would give food only to Greek Christians.

Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, Connecticut and Toronto.

What’s at stake is the health of European democracy and the values and institutions on which it rests. But although the euro crisis touched off a scramble to halt a financial meltdown, European leaders have done virtually nothing to reverse the union’s dangerous political trends.

As recent polls show that its strength continues to grow, and its support runs as high as 50 percent among police officers, who routinely fail to investigate growing numbers of hate crimes.

Far-right ultranationalist groups are exploiting old enmities and new fears across the Continent. Although this is not the Europe of the 1930s, the disillusioned citizens of countries like Greece and Hungary have turned increasingly to simple answers, electing parties that blame familiar scapegoats — Jews, Gypsies, gays and foreigners — for their ills.

Maria Chandraki, 29, an unemployed beautician, hadn’t heard of Golden Dawn until the last election. “Their positions may be extreme,” she said, holding plastic bags of food she’d just received, “but the situation is extreme as well. So we need extreme measures.” She went on, “We can’t have so many nations and so many different sets of values and ideals under the same roof.”

Beneath the looming basilica of Athens’ largest church, middle-aged men and women in black Golden Dawn T-shirts were busy one bright September morning distributing food to needy Greeks. Kids ran across the courtyard, which was painted with the party’s unofficial platform: “Get foreigners out of Greece.” Clusters of fit, stoic young men in dark glasses ringed the perimeter.

Nikolaos Michos, a square-jawed Golden Dawn member of Parliament with the build and tattoos of a heavyweight boxer, leaned against a bloodmobile watching. He wore a black polo embossed with the party’s swastika-like logo. “We’re fighters and we’re not going to back down,” he said, referring to death threats from leftists and the burning of a Golden Dawn office. “But they’re not striking fear into us because every center they destroy, we’ll build new ones,” he added.

European leaders must not cede the battleground in the war of ideas. They should publicly denounce parties that espouse racist doctrines and spew hate-filled rhetoric and clearly define and defend the shared values of an increasingly integrated Europe.

To do so, they must develop a pan-European approach to monitor hate crimes and investigate right-wing extremist networks that operate across borders. And the European Union must ensure that all member-states, old and new, respect the same criteria that countries currently aspiring to join the European Union are required to meet, especially maintaining the “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.” Otherwise, Europe faces the specter of more xenophobic violence and the unraveling of the liberal democratic order that has drawn so many persecuted people to seek asylum and opportunity on European shores.

Nikos Katapodis, 69, can see the crossroads where his family has lived since 1863. A bald, chain-smoking funeral-home owner, Katapodis described the Greek government with a string of expletives. The flood of immigrants over the last decade created ghettos in central Athens, he explained. Crime rates rose, property values dropped and bars appeared on second-floor windows. “It looks like a prison,” he said, nodding to the street. “Today it reminds me of the late 1940s,” he added. “You see people scrounging for food in the trash cans.”

Although he didn’t vote for Golden Dawn, he sees it as “the only party that is actually doing things for the Greek people” — a cross between the welfare state and the Mafia. If he needed an escort to walk down the street or help paying for his cancer medicine, said he’d call Golden Dawn. “They’re doing what the politicians should be doing,” he said. “There’s a hole, and they fill it.”

Authoritarian elements in the Greek government have a history of using far-right groups to outsource political violence against critics. Recent moves to rein in Golden Dawn came only after it grew too powerful to control and the state felt its own authority was challenged, explained Anastassia Tsoukala, a legal scholar. “They were bitten by their own snake,” she said. And Greece is not alone. Golden Dawn’s rise has parallels across Europe, and its significance should be of Continental concern. 

Hatef Mokhtar is editor-in-chief of The Oslo Times. This is his first piece for the Jewish Journal.

Thessaloniki Jews to mark 70th anniversary of Nazi deportations


The Jewish community of Thessaloniki in northern Greece will hold a series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first deportations of the city’s Jews to Auschwitz.

On March 15, 1943, the Nazis sent the first convoy of some 4,000 Jews from Thessaloniki to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. By August, 49,000 out of the city’s pre-war population of 55,000 Jews had been deported. Fewer than 2,000 survived.

The events will include a march on March 16 from the city’s Liberty Square to the Old Railway Station where a memorial ceremony will be held. That will be followed by the main commemoration ceremony on March 17 at Thessaloniki’s Monastiriotes Synagogue, where Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to speak.

The Jewish community will also inaugurate a photographic exhibit about the deportations and hold a concert at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, which was constructed on the site of a destroyed Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was one of the most important centers of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the Flower of the Balkans, it was the center of Ladino culture in the region.

Following the deportations, Jewish property was looted, synagogues were destroyed, priceless Ladino libraries were shipped to Germany and Jewish cemetery headstones were used as construction materials.

Also March 17, the World Jewish Congress will hold a special meeting in Thessaloniki, headed by Ronald Lauder, as part of the commemorations. The gathering is part of the organization's efforts to support vulnerable Jewish communities, the World Jewish Congress said in a statement

Today, about 1,000 Jews live in the city and they are “adversely affected by the country’s deep economic problems and by the rise of the extremist Golden Dawn, a movement whose leaders openly deny the Holocaust,” according to the World Jewish Congress.

Rise of Golden Dawn: A presage of doom


The undisguised extremism promoted by Golden Dawn is a chilling watershed in Greece's post-war democracy. Fascist gangs are turning Athens into a city of shifting front lines, seizing on crimes and local protests to promote their own movement, by claiming to be the defenders of recession-ravaged Greece.

‘The People's Association – Golden Dawn,’ usually known simply as ‘Golden Dawn,’ is a right-wing extremist political organization in Greece. It is led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos and has grown considerably since its inception to a widely known Greek political party with nationwide support.

Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is gaining popularity in the midst of the country’s deepening financial crisis. The group has been implicated in torture cases, and for inciting a wave of racial violence sweeping the country.

An opinion poll published by KAPA Research in October showed that support for the extremist political group had grown from 7.5 percent of the population in June to 10.4 percent currently.

The Golden Dawn emerged from political obscurity into the mainstream in May after winning 7 percent of the vote in the Greek parliamentary elections. Since then, the country has reportedly witnessed an upsurge in racial violence connected to the right-wing group.

The party entered the international spotlight after some of its members reportedly participated in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims. Its publication praises the Third Reich and often features photographs of Hitler and other Nazis.

Golden Dawn has manipulated a weak Greek state and disastrous austerity management by European bureaucrats to become, according to recent polls, the third most popular political party in the country — a noxious omen for the euro zone and a worrying challenge and counterpoint to the very idea of the E.U. itself, which received this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Three years ago, Greeks ignored Golden Dawn, seeing its members as neo-Nazi thugs waging war against migrants and giving it a miserable 0.29% of the vote. Last year, however, Golden Dawn — rebranded as an anti-austerity party — won nearly 7% and secured 18 of the 300 seats in Parliament. Its ascent has continued in opinion surveys despite its parliamentary deputies' being filmed attacking immigrant vendors and demanding that all non-Greek children be kicked out of day-care centres and hospitals.

As the cash-strapped government struggles to offer its citizens basic services, Golden Dawn has set up parastate organizations to police the streets, donate to Greek-only blood banks and help unemployed Greeks find jobs. The party has also promised to cancel household debt for the unemployed and low-wage earners. “Soon we'll be running this country,” says Ilias Panagiotaros, a beefy 38-year-old army-supply-shop owner who is now a Golden Dawn parliamentary deputy representing Athens.

Public Love from Fear

“The people love us.” says Ilias Panagiotaros. Golden Dawn draws much of that love from fear. Greece is now the main entry point for at least 80% of the EU's un-documented migrants. Frontex, the EU border-patrolling agency, estimates that 57,000 illegal immigrants slipped into Greece last year and more than 100,000 entered in 2010. Many travel through Turkey, often via a land border that Golden Dawn wants to plant with land mines. Some seek asylum, and because of EU rules, those who want to apply for refugee status must do so in their country of entry — in this case, Greece — which often takes years to review the applications. As Europe turns a blind eye to the immigration crisis, many impoverished foreigners find themselves trapped in an economically crippled country that can't sustain them.

Some Greeks no longer want to be hospitable. In the past year, gangs of vigilantes, many sporting Golden Dawn's black shirts, have beaten and stabbed hundreds of migrants, according to human-rights groups.

In June 2012, a number of them broke into the Piraeus home of Abouzeid Mubarak, 28, an Egyptian fisherman, bashing him with iron rods until he fell into a coma. “It was a hate that was inhuman,” says Mubarak, who is still recovering.

Ali Rahimi, a 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was hanging around with friends outside his building in central Athens when more than a dozen Greeks approached. Several men set upon Mr. Rahimi, one with a knife. Panicked, he fled into his apartment and fought back, managing to push the men out the door. He found blood gushing from just above his heart, one of five stab wounds in his back and chest.

Mr. Rahimi survived and is staying put for now. But his friend, Reza Mohammed, who was also injured in the attack, is considering what was once unthinkable: moving back to Afghanistan, which he feels would be safer than Greece.

Parts of Athens feel like a war zone. Racist gangs cruise the streets at night in search of victims. Themis Skordeli, a member of the group that is accused of stabbing Mr. Rahimi, ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on the ticket of Golden Dawn.

A few blocks down the street, a crowd was leaving a mosque after Friday Prayer. At the mention of Golden Dawn, immigrant men began lifting their shirts to show their scars. A short, sullen-looking young man with a cut across his nose and freshly sutured cheek bone was pushed forward by the crowd. Just the night before, he said, he was beaten and cut with a knife by “fascists.”

“Go into the Omonia police station,” said another man. “You will see how violence is going on.” Several blocks away, I walked into just such a scene. As I stepped out of the elevator at the police station, I saw an officer screaming at a black man and backhanding him hard across the shoulder.

In Athens, Sayd Jafari owns a cafe frequented by fellow Afghans. It has been repeatedly ransacked by mobs of black-clad attackers wielding sticks, chains and knives and performing fascist salutes.

Like others who have been assaulted, Mr. Jafari is also contemplating returning home to Afghanistan. “There, maybe someone has a bomb hidden on his body that he detonates,” he says. “Here, you don’t see where the knife that kills you comes from.”

It's now common to see police lineup immigrants from South Asia and Africa in public squares and along streets in central Athens. Those without legal-residency permits are arrested and sent to detention centres to be deported.

Police claim they have detained nearly 42,000 people since August, though only about 3,400 were arrested for not having residency papers. They defended the crackdown, which was strongly denounced by human-rights groups, by comparing undocumented migrants to the Dorian invaders who purportedly brought down the Mycenaeans in 1100 B.C.

The most recent example of fascism shown by Golden Dawn in its series of discriminating activities is when it said a visit to Greece by American Jewish Committee leader David Harris is meant to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), is leading a Jewish delegation to the region to meet with several Greek leaders, including Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. During the meetings, Harris expressed his “concern and solidarity for Greece during the crisis.”

“The only solidarity of this gentleman is to his compatriots – the international loan sharks, who are humiliating the Greek people. His concern most likely is related to the inability of Greece to make the payments of the predatory interest rates of the vile loans,” Golden Dawn said in a statement, adding: “We do not need the crocodile tears of a Jew.”

Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, uses the Heil Hitler salute and has denied the existence of gas chambers at Nazi death camps during World War II. Another lawmaker read a passage from the anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The attack on Harris and a separate article titled “Absolute Evil” that was published on the party's website Friday appeared to be a hardening of Golden Dawn's anti-Semitic rhetoric, apparently in anger over pressure from Jewish groups to get the Greek government to reign in the party. The “Evil” statement said that blaming Golden Dawn for Greece’s woes constituted an attempt to divert attention from the real culprits for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They are none other than those who possess most of the international wealth. The people behind the international loan-sharks,” the statement said. “Everyone knows they belong to a certain race, which presents itself as a victim, while in reality it is the perpetrator. Everyone knows that they are none other than those pulling the strings behind the marionettes. They are the absolute evil for mankind.”

The second statement ended with a threat.

“The time will come when the nationalists of the Golden Dawn will take revenge like the horsemen of the storm, and all of them, being the absolute evil, will pay!”

Not content to proselytizing in their homeland, Golden Dawn has started to expand worldwide.

Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece – only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch! They're only giving food out to Greek Christians.

Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto.

What’s at stake is the health of European democracy, and the values and institutions on which it rests. But while the euro crisis touched off a scramble to halt a financial meltdown, European leaders have done virtually nothing to reverse the union’s dangerous political trends.

As recent polls show that its strength continues to grow, and its support runs as high as 50 percent among police officers, who routinely fail to investigate growing numbers of hate crimes.

Far-right ultranationalist groups are exploiting old enmities and new fears across the Continent. Although this is not the Europe of the 1930s, the disillusioned citizens of countries like Greece and Hungary have turned increasingly to simple answers, electing parties that blame familiar scapegoats — Jews, Gypsies, gays and foreigners — for their ills.

Maria Chandraki, 29, an unemployed beautician, hadn’t heard of Golden Dawn until the last election. “Their positions may be extreme,” she said, holding plastic bags of food she’d just received. “But the situation is extreme as well. So we need extreme measures.” She went on, “We can’t have so many nations and so many different sets of values and ideals under the same roof.”

Beneath the looming basilica of Athens’ largest church, middle-aged men and women in black Golden Dawn T-shirts were busy one bright September morning distributing food to needy Greeks. Kids ran across the courtyard, which was painted with the party’s unofficial platform: “Get foreigners out of Greece.” Clusters of fit, stoic young men in dark glasses ringed the perimeter.

Nikolaos Michos, a square-jawed Golden Dawn Member of Parliament with the build and tattoos of a heavyweight boxer, leaned against a bloodmobile watching. He wore a black polo embossed with the party’s Swastika-like logo. “We’re fighters and we’re not going to back down,” he said, referring to death threats from leftists and the burning of a Golden Dawn office. “But they’re not striking fear into us because every centre they destroy, we’ll build new ones,” he added.

European leaders must not cede the battleground in the war of ideas. They should publicly denounce parties that espouse racist doctrines and spew hate-filled rhetoric and clearly define and defend the shared values of an increasingly integrated Europe.

To do so, they must develop a pan-European approach to monitor hate crimes and investigate right-wing extremist networks that operate across borders. And the European Union must ensure that all member-states, old and new, respect the same criteria that countries currently aspiring to join the European Union are required to meet, especially maintaining the “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.” Otherwise, Europe faces the spectre of more xenophobic violence and the unravelling of the liberal democratic order that has drawn so many persecuted people to seek asylum and opportunity on European shores.

Nikos Katapodis, 69, can see the crossroads where his family has lived since 1863. A bald, chain-smoking funeral-home owner, Mr. Katapodis describes the Greek government with a string of expletives. The flood of immigrants over the last decade created ghettos in central Athens, he explains. Crime rates rose, property values dropped and bars appeared on second-floor windows. “It looks like a prison,” he said, nodding to the street. “Today it reminds me of the late 1940s,” he adds. “You see people scrounging for food in the trash cans.”

Although he didn’t vote for Golden Dawn, he sees it as “the only party that is actually doing things for the Greek people” — a cross between the welfare state and the Mafia. If he needed an escort to walk down the street or help paying for his cancer medicine, he’d call Golden Dawn. “They’re doing what the politicians should be doing,” he said. “There’s a hole, and they fill it.”

Authoritarian elements in the Greek government have a history of using far-right groups to outsource political violence against critics. Recent moves to rein in Golden Dawn came only after it grew too powerful to control and the state felt its own authority was challenged, explained Anastassia Tsoukala, a legal scholar. “They were bitten by their own snake,” she said. And Greece is not alone. Golden Dawn’s rise has parallels across Europe, and its significance should be of Continental concern.


 

Hatef Mokhtar is the editor-in-chief of The Oslo Times.

Alleged Palestinian terrorist arrested in Athens


Athens police arrested an alleged Palestinian terrorist accused of being in Greece to plan a major attack in Europe.

Ghaleb Taleb, who who was arrested Feb. 12, is said to be a member of the Fatah-Al-Islam terror group based in Lebanon. He holds a Lebanese passport and citizenship.

Taleb will be deported for illegal entry into the country after being questioned by police. It is unclear whether he will be sent to Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority, according to reports.

Ghaleb was under the surveillance of the Greek Central Intelligence agency after reportedly secretly entering Greece several months ago, the Greek police said.

The police were forced to arrest Ghaleb over the weekend to avoid his fleeing the country following a story in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reporting his presence in Greece and his alleged mission. The paper said that Ghaleb had attempted to facilitate the entrance into Greece of other terrorists, to whom he supplied money and false passports.

A Palestinian was last arrested in Greece on terrorism charges in 1991, according to reports.

Aviv Geffen to open for U2


Israeli rock musician Aviv Geffen will be the opening act for U2.

Geffen will join SnowPatrol in warming up the crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece on Sept. 3 for U2’s 360 Tour, Geffen announced on his website.

Geffen released his first album in English last year. In addition to being a solo artist, he performed with British musician Steven Wilson as the Blackfield Duo.

Year of Kivunim unites young travelers


We wound our way through the busy streets of Athens, dodging loud protesters commemorating the 1973 Greek student uprising, until we came upon an unassuming six-story apartment building and climbed the narrow stairwell to the top floor.

This was the Chabad center of Athens and the home of Rabbi Mendel Hendel and his family — who also happen to be the only five members of the Athens Chabad. I took my seat at the crowded Shabbat dinner table surrounded by 19 of my fellow world travelers on the Kivunim program, an Israel-based, year-long travel and study program for college students.

To my left sat Yael, whom we affectionately call “the Italian.” Born and raised in Tuscany, she speaks flawless Hebrew, thanks to her Israeli mother. At the end of the table sat Ira, from Moscow, next to Jessie, from Milwaukee, who spent most of the evening talking politics with a soldier on leave from Iraq who needed a warm Shabbat meal while traveling in Greece.

Under the table, 6-year-old Aryeh Mendel scurried back and forth, pulling on my leg, growling and constantly reminding me in Hebrew that his name means “lion” and that I should be very scared. That Shabbat dinner was a fusion of cultures, languages, ideologies and different walks of Jewish life all brought together under one roof — everything Kivunim stands for.

Kivunim, in Hebrew “directions,” is an independent, nonprofit program that gathers pre-college students from all parts of the globe to spend the year traveling and engaging Jews in communities throughout the world and Israel. In addition to Greece, we travel to Morocco, Spain, Turkey India, Hungary and the Czech Republic. While in Israel we travel within the country, volunteer once a week, study Hebrew, Arabic, history and Middle Eastern politics, and focus on developing our awareness of the world and coexisting within it.

My room is the best snapshot of the wide array of Jews Kivunim attracts. My roommate, Daniel, from Seattle, did not study Hebrew past his bar mitzvah, and when we arrived together at Ben-Gurion Airport, it was his first time in Israel. My other roommate, Dovid (who now goes by David), comes from an Orthodox family in Sydney, Australia, and attended private Jewish day school all his life. His older brother joined the Israel Defense Forces about three months ago.

I come from a Reform household; my father is a Reform rabbi, my mother a vice president of United Jewish Communities and I attended Jewish day schools and Camp Hess-Kramer for most of my life. Half the group is shomer Shabbat and keeps kosher. The other half loves taking cabs to the Arab market on Saturday afternoons. It has created an environment ripe with interesting religious conversation and chock full of heated debate and, most importantly, deep friendships.

In addition to different types of people, Kivunim strives to show its students the sides of Israel few visitors get to see. One of our most serious experiences with coexistence was our three-day stay in the homes of Arab Israelis in the village of Mazra’a, a town unmarked on most maps but located about 20 kilometers south of the Lebanese border, near Nahariya. During those three days I worked on my Arabic with my host, Mustafa, and also toured the north of Israel with an Arab guide who took us to remnants of Arab villages and told us of displaced Muslim families. It was far removed from the classic Zionist image delivered at most Jewish day schools and Jewish camps.

It was even further removed from our day trip to the West Bank, where we spoke with David Wielder, who spoke on behalf of 800 settlers firmly rooted in their right to live in Hebron. Many Kivunim students wrestled with these contrasting pictures of Israel, but again, this kind of struggle is exactly what Kivunim is all about.

In the three short months since the program began, I have undoubtedly received a much more nuanced view of world Jewry and Israeli society that I could not have understood within the sheltered confines of the Los Angeles Jewish community. My view on “the conflict” is far more confused than it was before I arrived in Israel, despite endless hours of conversation and study that I had hoped would result in some answers. Whether camping in a remote canyon in the middle of the Negev or elbowing through a mob of passengers trying to board an Israeli bus, Israel has been revealed to me for all of its incredible strengths as well as the occasional blemish.

After years and years of Israeli history and Hebrew class, it is only after living here for a few months that I have started to understand the intricacies of Israeli culture, the complexity of the conflict and the many peoples who call this place their home. My only disappointment is that more Jewish high school graduates do not take a break from the rigor of American academics by taking a year to do some traveling, feel what it’s like to live in the land of Israel and return to their college campuses with a broader understanding of both the secular and Jewish worlds.

Noah Stern graduated from Milken Community High School last year and will be attending UC Berkeley next year.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Terrorism of ’70s Forced Israeli Move


The dates and times are all one blur. What remains crystal clear, however, is what it was like to be an Israeli in the early 1970s, when the phenomenon of international terror began: Japanese terrorists landing at Lod Airport and gunning down dozens of pilgrims just arrived from Peru; German terrorists trying to shoot down an El Al airliner taking off from Kenya; the hijacking of Israeli and foreign aircraft en route to Israel; attacks by the Red Brigades on Israelis and on embassies in London and Seoul, and in Athens, Paris and Rome. And, of course, the horrible massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Israel’s response to the Munich killings was the targeted assassination of the perpetrators, a strategy that became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Munich.”

To understand Israel’s decision, it’s necessary to understand what that time was like. Nowhere on earth, it seemed, was it safe to travel, let alone do so openly as an Israeli. The attacks were at home, abroad, everywhere. And the attackers — in addition to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenite and other assorted members of the various arms of the Palestinian liberation movements — were radicals from half the member states of the United Nations.

In the early 1970s, when on my first work trip abroad, I remember receiving written instructions from my travel agent, obviously supplied by the authorities, that I was to wear or show no overt sign that I was an Israeli, such as carrying an El Al travel bag, for example, and I was advised to buy a cover for my passport so that only immigration officials and not others in line would know my nationality.

But it was more than that. Suddenly, Israeli embassies around the world needed to implement new security regimes costing hundreds of millions and fully guaranteeing nothing. Every Israeli delegation traveling abroad, especially after the Munich massacre, needed professional security protection. Every suitcase going onto every flight to and from Israel needed to be checked; every check-in counter turned into a fortress.

Israel was again being strategically challenged, despite its string of successes: the 1967 War — when Israel conquered the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, re-united Jerusalem and destroyed Arab air forces as far away as Iraq; its steadfastness during the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal; and its ultimate victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This time, it was a different kind of enemy playing on a different battlefield. And while not posing an existential threat to Israel, this danger threatened to cripple the country economically, physiologically and diplomatically. It was something that could not go unchallenged. If not confronted, the threat would bask in its own success and grow. It had to be defeated.

Assigned by Prime Minister Golda Meir to mastermind the effort was a diminutive figure by the name of Aharon (Arele) Yariv, a retired major general who had served as Israel’s head of military with distinction for nine years. He had retired in 1971 and had subsequently served as a minister in Meir’s government.

What he headed was not a rogue operation made up of foreigners; nor was his mission vengeance. He was chosen because he was trusted by the prime minister and respected by the head of the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), as well as by the senior echelons of the military. And he had the skill, ingenuity and experience to understand the new threat and to formulate Israel’s strategic response.

The strategy Yariv developed — and one that has been refined ever since, culminating in the current concept of “preemptive targeted killing” — was not to waste energy and resources to go after the rank-and-file echelons of terrorist movements but their operational capabilities and leadership.

“Use a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” he once told me in the temporary offices he had set up on the second floor of a cinema adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle in the mid-70s.

“Place them on the defensive, and they will suffer operationally, having to defend themselves, rather than having the luxury of only having to think about how to plan the next attack on Israel,” he said in an interview that was off-the-record at the time. “When one of their leaders is exposed, they wonder who exposed him. That leads to mistrust in once-cohesive and secretive organizations. They look to find the leak. It distracts and weakens them.”

Was Israel’s campaign against the terror movements effective or did it lead to more terror in revenge for Israel’s actions?

The question is not really relevant. In declaring its war on terror in the 1970s, Israel was responding to a threat of international proportions and strategic consequences; it was not on a campaign of vengeance.

These terrorists were not the Nazis of the past who deserved retribution but a new enemy using new means on new turf and requiring a new answer. The answer was Yariv’s policy of going for the jugular in order to strangle the body. It was pinpoint, effective and ultimately successful at the time, despite the mistakes — like the killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent waiter, Ahmed Bushiki, wrongly identified by Israeli agents as a terrorist.

The overall capabilities of the terrorist movements dropped dramatically; international terror groups, including the Red Brigades and others, faded into history. And international cooperation to challenge terror was born. Yariv and the Israeli government demonstrated that while one may not be able to fully defeat terror, it can be thwarted.

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself,” published in April by PublicAffairs and a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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Lack of Jewish Life in Greece Just Myth


When twilight descends on mountain villages and sun-kissed beaches, sociable Greeks make their way to tiny sidewalk cafes. They toast the end of the workday with anise-flavored ouzo, accompanied by plates of broiled octopus and green olives.

Dinner in the taverna is a long, lingering affair filled with an array of garlicky salads, fish, meat and maybe a slice of phylo-wrapped kasseri. As the night winds down, life moves to the cafeneion, where sweet and potent Greek coffee and perhaps a nibble of baklava serve as the perfect nightcap.

Poets have been known to wax lyrical about “the glory that was Greece.” Yet a visitor to Greece today quickly finds that the glory’s not only in the past tense. While those who built the shrines to Zeus and Apollo are long gone, the people who inhabit modern Greece are unquestionably alive.

The nation’s once-proud Jewish population, which dates back to Alexander the Great, was largely decimated during World War II. But from Rhodes to Athens, Greece’s rich Judaic history and culture are being preserved, and the seeds of the Jewish community are beginning to take root again.

Athens, a megalopolis whose population tops 3 million, has all the hallmarks of a major city: museums, theaters, office towers, the occasional Starbucks. Still, it remains quintessentially Greek.

Armed guards in short, pleated skirts; tasseled caps, and shoes with floppy pompoms keep watch in front of Parliament, across the street from Athens’ Syntagma (Constitution) Square. At regular intervals, they solemnly perform an oddly lopsided strut, complete with high kicks and sustained balletic poses. It’s a hint that the impulse to break out the dance moves is deeply rooted in the Greek soul.

Part of the thrill of Athens is that history is everywhere. A shady café in Plaka borders the delightful Tower of the Winds, dating from the time when Julius Caesar’s Romans ruled Greece. On a shopping expedition to the Athens Flea Market, tourists find themselves skirting the Ancient Agora, where Socrates and Plato once strolled. The city’s main bus lines terminate not far from the massive, horseshoe-shaped Panathenaic Stadium. Built in the fourth century CE on the ruins of an earlier stadium, it was restored for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and played a dramatic role in the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympiad of 2004.

But what makes Athens most special is the large flat hill in its center — the fabled Acropolis. Visitors must wend their way on foot, past the charming restaurants and shops of the old Plaka district, to reach one of the world’s most dazzling sights. The Parthenon, along with the other ruined temples that gleam in the bright Greek sun, dates from the fifth century BCE. In ancient times this was the center of community worship, and it’s easy to imagine throngs of pilgrims bearing offerings for the goddess Athena here.

But not every ancient Greek worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. In the marketplace under the Acropolis are the remains of a fifth century BCE synagogue, which still feature carvings of lulavs and a menorah. Happily, Athens can also boast Jewish sites of much more recent vintage. The city is home to the handsome Jewish Museum of Greece, built in 1997, which gives eloquent testimony to the lost glories of Greek-style Judaism. Today Athens’ small but vibrant Jewish community — comprising more than 3,000 of Greece’s 5,000 Jews — supports a day school, a youth center and a functioning synagogue.

Beth Jacob, founded in the 1930s, occupies an austere neoclassical building on a quiet street that was once the heart of a bustling Jewish quarter. It is open for Sephardic services throughout the year. Directly across Melidoni Street, one can also spot the historic (and well-guarded) Ioannina Synagogue, dating from 1903. Once the headquarters for Athenian Jews who embraced Greece’s ancient and unique Romaniote tradition, it is used on the High Holidays, but can also be viewed by special arrangement with the Jewish Community of Athens organization, which shares its premises.

Further afield, the traveler can find traces of Jewish life both on the Greek mainland and on many of Greece’s most romantic islands. One prime destination is Thessaloniki, also known as Salonika, where Jews who had fled from Spain in the 15th century found a safe haven under Ottoman rule. As late as 1900, almost half of the city’s population was Jewish. Now the 1,300 Jews still remaining in the area enjoy a community center, a school, and a kosher butcher, as well as a daily minyan. It’s possible to visit several charming Thessaloniki synagogues, along with a newly enhanced Jewish history museum that stands in the heart of the picturesque Modiano Market.

Jews planning to cruise the Greek islands can explore their heritage when they tire of beachcombing. In Corfu, a 300-year-old synagogue displaying a collection of Torah crowns is open every Saturday and by appointment. Remnants of Jewish life dating back to antiquity are found on Delos, Naxos and Zakynthos, among others. Chalkis, on the island of Euboea, claims to be the oldest Jewish community in Europe: today a 19th-century synagogue is a reminder of past glories. In Hania, Crete, an international archaeological effort led to the recent restoration of a Romaniote synagogue built in the middle ages. And a similar venture, spearheaded by Aron Hasson of Los Angeles, has helped preserve the Jewish historic sites of Rhodes. (See accompanying story.) The island’s 16th century Kahal Shalom, Greek’s oldest-functioning synagogue, now also plays host to the Jewish Museum of Rhodes. This informative museum makes an excellent jumping-off point for tours of the ancient Sephardic quarter known as “La Juderia.”

Most Hellenic vacations prove unforgettable because of the hospitality of the Greek populace, the beauty of the Greek landscape and the antiquity of the Greek culture. It’s no surprise that Jews lived contentedly on Greek soil for more than 2,000 years. Today’s visitor can revel in the splendors of Greece, while still pausing to remember the Jewish people who once made this land of sun and sea their home.

 

Windsurfer Wins Israel’s First Gold Medal


Television and radio stations in Israel cut away from their mid-day programming. News Web sites were updated faster than even the nimblest of fingers could press "refresh."

It wasn’t another terrorist attack in Israel, but some good news for a change: On Wednesday, the Jewish state entered the fraternity of Olympic gold-medal winners.

"I felt as though the whole country was pushing me from behind," Gal Fridman told reporters after he took the top score following the last windsurfing race at the 2004 Athens Games.

It was the first gold medal taken by an Israeli since the country began participating in the Games in 1952.

The medal was Israel’s sixth overall, and the second of Fridman’s career: He won a bronze at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

"Our No. 1!" announced the Web site of Israel’s biggest newspaper, Yediot Achronot, in its caption to a picture of Fridman, 28, on his board at the end of the mistral race.

President Moshe Katsav congratulated Fridman on his achievement — and judo competitor Arik Ze’evi, who earlier won a bronze medal in Athens, expressed a pride felt throughout Israel.

"Like all Israelis, I was delighted to hear ‘Hatikvah’ and see the flag raised. I did not manage to get the gold, but I am glad he did," Ze’evi told Channel 10 television.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Fridman to congratulate him in a phone call carried live by Israeli media.

"It was a joy to see you win and raise the Israeli flag," Sharon said. "The confidence and composure you evinced throughout the competition were extraordinary and earned you an honorary place in the chronicles of Israeli and international sport. You really are a grand sportsman, and the whole country rejoices with you today, and is proud of you — very, very proud of you."

But the nation’s excitement took a while to crest, perhaps because windsurfing’s almost leisurely pace and lack of an adversarial dynamic makes it less of a spectator sport.

By contrast, when Ze’evi took the bronze medal for Israel last week, cries of joy could be heard from salons and cafes across the country.

As the news of Fridman’s triumph spread in Israel, so did a sense of satisfaction.

"It’s about time," said Dedi Cohen, a Tel Aviv lawyer whose office spent much of the day watching live television coverage of the race. "Any sport that has Israeli involvement is of interest, but to get the gold is a matter of pride for Israel and Jews worldwide."

Fridman sailed consistently at Athens, never finishing lower than eighth in the 11-race event. After the final race, he jumped into the water and then draped himself in the flag.

Fridman’s family watched the race from its home in Karkur, surrounded by press. His parents, Dganit and Uri, clutched a Book of Psalms.

"I don’t have my glasses to read Psalms, but it’s enough to keep it close to our hearts," Uri Fridman said. Uri Fridman said he trained his son from age 6.

"I took him out first in boats, then on a surfboard, then on a windsurfer. I would throw him into the water, and pull him out again," he said.

Fridman’s biggest fan, ironically, said she was one of the few who did not see him win.

"I was too nervous to watch," said the windsurfer’s mother, Dganit. She had spent much of the week holding two thumbs-up in what she described to Israeli media as a good-luck gesture for Gal, which is Hebrew for "wave."

On a somber note, Fridman said he would dedicate his medal to the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. "I’m sure they’re watching us," he said. "And I’m sure their families in Israel will be very happy."

For the Kids


A Loving Parent

When I read the Torah, I see two things:
1) God is a parent who loves and disciplines his children.
2)The people of Israel are loving children who constantly test God’s boundaries: “I don’t want this food. I’m too tired to walk. When will we get there?”
If you read Parshat Ekev, you will see the story in action. God teaches the children of Israel to be patient, brave and to make good choices. If they do, they will be rewarded. It’s like getting to have fun all summer, because we worked hard all year in school.

Israeli Surfs New Turf


Windsurfer Gal Friedman became the first Israeli to win the gold medal at the World Mistral Sailboard Championships, held in Pattaya, Thailand, on Sunday, Dec. 15. Out of the 11 races in the regatta, Friedman won four and in two more he placed second, making it the best-ever achievement for an Israeli windsurfer.

Friedman’s achievement wasn’t always so certain. Although he had won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his fierce rival, Amit Inbar, represented Israel at the Sydney Games in 2000. Friedman’s disappointment at being overlooked in favor of Inbar led him to rethink his future, and he took off two years, preferring to concentrate on other sports, such as mountain biking.

Once the Sydney Games ended, Friedman started thinking about making a comeback. At the same time, Inbar decided to quit, but Friedman refused to attend the trials set by the Sailing Association for choosing a team for the European championships. While younger Israeli windsurfers such as Tal Machuro, Yoni Ben-Zeev and Alex Hebner competed against each other, Friedman — with the help of the Elite Sports Unit and the agreement of the Sailing Association — received funding to train intensively with Nikos Kaklamanakis, the gold medalist in the last two Olympics.

Friedman credits much of his recent success to his coach, American Mike Gebhardt. "He has helped me with the small things, the things which differentiate between the top places and the rest. Gebhardt is himself a former Olympic medalist, and his experience has helped me — mostly in motivating me to believe that I can win," Friedman said.

"He has proved his great potential. He has the attributes of a champion," an ecstatic Gebhardt said Sunday of Friedman. "He has great technique and a strong character, but he needs some moral support to make him even better," he said.

Friedman’s title places him as a leading contender among Israelis going for an Olympic medal in the 2004 Athens Games, alongside pole vaulter Alex Averbukh and kayaker Mikhail Kalganov.

Despite the fact that he was in 19th place after his first race in Thailand, Friedman got back on course on Sunday, took the lead on the second day of competition and did not look back. "I didn’t try to go for a medal, I went for the gold," he said. "This was a long and tough event, but I stayed close to the title all the way through. I have had a good year. It is very difficult to be second in Europe and world champion in the same year, but I have done it, and I have proved that I am part of the leading group in the world." — Staff Report