When the Anti-Defamation League published its global anti-Semitism survey last week, Greece, the cradle of democracy and home to Europe’s oldest Jewish communities, captured the notorious title of being the most anti-Semitic country in Europe.
According to the ADL poll results, an astonishing 69 percent of Greeks espoused anti-Semitic views. Greece was on par with Saudi Arabia, more anti-Semitic than Iran (56 percent) and nearly twice as anti-Semitic as Europe’s second-most anti-Semitic country, France (37 percent).
On its surface, the poll suggests that anti-Semitism is running rampant in Greece. But Greece’s Jewish community was quick to suggest that observers take a serious look at the results and point out that despite widespread bigotry, Greece hasn’t seen the sort of anti-Jewish violence that has cropped up in some other European countries, such as France.
“Despite the poll showing high levels of anti-Semitism, it must be noted that in Greece over the last four years we have not had any anti-Semitic violence against people or Jewish institutions,” said Victor Eliezer, the secretary general of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“This is not a poll about violence, but rather a survey on stereotypes, and yes, there are a lot of stereotypes among the Greek public,” he said.
Even the ADL cautioned on the side of balance and reflection at the results and what is really happening in Greece.
“There is a danger of sensationalizing it, a danger of overplaying the psychological impact of the poll,” Michael Salberg, ADL’s director of international affairs, said in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “There needs to be real hard internal look at the data and examining what are the forces at play.”
Most of the blame goes to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has found fertile ground for its extreme-right ideology in the ruins of Greece’s economic crisis. In elections held this past Sunday for Athens mayor, 16 percent of the vote went to Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, a man notorious for beating a female political opponent during a television interview and for the large swastika tattooed on his shoulder.
The poll gauged anti-Semitism based on whether respondents agreed with a majority of 11 statements on Jewish power, loyalty, money and behavior that the ADL says suggest bias.
They include such statements as Jews talk too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust; Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries they live in; Jews think they are better than other people; Jews have too much power in the business world; and Jews have too much control over global affairs.
Critics have suggested that the survey is deeply flawed because the statements are not fair indicators of real anti-Jewish bias.
Of the 579 Greeks polled, 85 percent said Jews had too much power in the business world, 82 percent said Jews have too much power in the financial markets and 74 percent said Jews have too much influence over global affairs. The margin of error for Greece was plus or minus 4.4 percent.
In Greece, anti-Semitic viewpoints are aired frequently, particularly the notions that Jews control the global economy and politics. In 2012, when the Golden Dawn’s Kasidiaris read in Parliament from the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the reading drew no condemnation from the other lawmakers present.
Nor was there public condemnation when Golden Dawn slammed the recent visit by the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, as a trip to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”
Golden Dawn hasn’t been alone in expressing such sentiments. Even the mainstream media, political parties, the Church and notable public figures have long histories of anti-Semitism.
Earlier this year, the left-wing Syriza party’s candidate for regional governor accused Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of heading a Jewish conspiracy to visit “a new Hanukkah against the Greeks.” Syriza reluctantly dropped the candidate, Theodoros Karypidis. At the heart of his theory was a move last year by Samaras to shut the unprofitable and loss-making Hellenic Broadcasting Authority (ERT) and replace it with New Hellenic Radio and Television, known by its Greek acronym NERIT. According to Karypidis, NERIT is derived from the Hebrew word for candle, “ner,” which he links to Hanukkah.
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.
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.”
Despite official condemnation of anti-Semitism from the Greek Orthodox Church of Greece, high-ranking hierarchs with large flocks have been known to go rogue in their statements, most certainly impacting the viewpoints of their faithful and adding to Greek stereotypes of Jews.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Kalavryta, Amvrossios, published a post on his personal blog, claiming that Jewish “advisors” control the content in Greek schoolbooks, including books for religious studies and history; that 94% of the capital of the National Bank of Greece belongs to Jews; that the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities, representing Greek Jewry, is a “state within a state,” exempt from paying taxes; and that leftwing Greek politicians, such as Eleftherios Venizelos (Greek PM during World War I) and Kostas Simitis (Greek PM responsible for Greece entering the Eurozone) were secret Jews.
Another high-ranking Metropolitan, Seraphim of Piraeus, caused an international stir when he claimed in an interview on a Greek television station that Jews orchestrated the Holocaust and accused “world Zionism” of a conspiracy to enslave Greece and the Orthodox Church. “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire,” Seraphim also said in the interview seen throughout the world.
Anti-semitism has even entered popular culture, sports and the arts.
Mikis Theodorakis, best known for composing the musical score to the film Zorba the Greek, declared on Greek television that he was “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. Everything that happens today in the world has to do with the Zionists,” he said, adding that “American Jews are behind the world economic crisis that has hit Greece also.” Back in 2003, The 89-year-old composer said that Israel “is the root of evil.”
Soccer player Giorgos Katidis created an international controversy in 2013, when he gave a Nazi-style salute after scoring the winning goal in a nationally televised match. His action drew condemnation from politicians, fans and the media, forcing him to tears in the dressing room. He later claimed he was unaware of the gesture’s connotations, stating that he just wanted to dedicate the goal to a colleague in the stands. As a result of the salute, the Hellenic Football Federation voted unanimously to give him a lifetime ban from all Greek national teams and he was fined €50,000.
Still, there are some signs of improvement.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his government have moved to condemn anti-Semitic expressions and launched a crackdown on Golden Dawn, jailing many of its leaders. The government also has acted against Holocaust denial and runs school education programs together with the Jewish community.
“From the results of the poll, what is clear is that these stereotypes are very prevalent in Greek society,” Eliezer said. “How do you combat these stereotypes? Only through education.”