Anti-Semitism on Upswing in Greece

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Greece, according to a new report. The Greek Helsinki Monitor, a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said in its report that since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than two years ago, "blatant anti-Semitism" has been expressed in the Greek media "by a spectrum of influential personalities in politics, labor, education and culture."

The Sept. 11 attacks in the United States also contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Greece, according to the 64-page report that was issued late last month.

The report cited a sharp increase in anti-Semitism in the media after Israel launched a large-scale military operation last spring to uproot the Palestinian terror infrastructure in the West Bank. At that time, according to the report, mainstream Greek newspapers published anti-Semitic editorials and cartoons, drawing parallels between the Israeli military operation and the Holocaust and comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler.

Expressions of anti-Semitism through Holocaust imagery were so harsh in the Greek media and political circles at the time that Hronika, the official magazine of the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, spoke of a climate of "hysteria and anti-Semitism" that was masquerading as mere criticism of the State of Israel.

International Jewish organizations have responded to the developments. In July and September, the Anti-Defamation League sent two letters to Greek Prime Minister Konstantine Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou protesting the use of Holocaust imagery in the Greek media.

During a July meeting at which European security representatives discussed anti-Semitism, Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Paris office, urged Simitis and other Greek leaders to publicly condemn the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and Nazi imagery when criticizing Israel.

"Anti-Israel fanaticism has degenerated into anti-Jewish hatemongering by leading intellectuals and politicians," Samuels said at the time.

In a more recent development, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Greek government calling on it to close down the TV station of Yorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the far-right Popular Rally Party. The party recently garnered nearly 14 percent of the vote in local elections for a district that includes the city of Athens.

Karatzaferis, who regularly hurls epithets against Jews and the Israeli ambassador to Greece on his TV station, has propagated the libel, circulating widely in the Arab world, that Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In September, Karatzaferis submitted a question in the Greek Parliament asking the foreign minister if he was aware that the Israeli press had published articles claiming that Jews had not gone to work on Sept. 11 after they were forewarned about the attacks on the Twin Towers.

The question was subsequently published in several right-wing papers in Greece with no comment, while articles embracing the rumors were found in editorials of the official magazine of the Technical Chamber of Greece, the government body that oversees the work of Greek industrialists. The magazine is distributed to thousands of Greek businessmen.

While the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported anti-Semitism in the Greek media and on the part of some politicians, observers pointed out that there is no state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Greece. However, the report said, "A fundamental obstacle to counteracting anti-Semitism in Greece" is the fact that "the Greek government has yet to take a strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism."

The government defended itself against the charges by saying it will not try to censor the media.

Greek Jews cited two occurrences to point out what they believe are examples of media bias. They noted that there was barely any media mention of the recent desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Salonika and of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of the northern city of Ioannina. In the latter case, local police officers appeared to have been involved.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas condemned the two incidents. However, there was no official condemnation when the newly unveiled Holocaust memorial on the island of Rhodes was defaced in July.