Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman on Monday called on Greeks to reject Golden Dawn when going to polls in next week’s European Parliamentary elections.
The ultra-nationalist party’s stronger than expected showing in Sunday’s local elections, despite a harsh government crackdown on the party, are indicative of a serious problem, Foxman said.
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris received more than 16 percent of Sunday’s vote in the race for mayor of Athens, while the party’s candidate for governor of the Attica region got more than 11%. In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, their candidate received almost 8%, according to election results released Monday.
While none of the Golden Dawn candidates made it through to the second round of voting to be held next Sunday, when elections to the European Parliament will also be held, the strong showing by the neo-Nazi party prompted concern from the government.
“When 16% of Athenians vote for a man known for having a swastika tattoo on his shoulder, we should not be satisfied that no Golden Dawn candidate made it to the second round,” Foxman told The Jerusalem Post.
Despite the government’s crackdown, he continued, “the neo-Nazi party scored better in the local elections than they did in the national elections in 2012,” when it won 18 out of 300 seats in parliament.
The government’s attempts to suppress the party came late last year after a supporter of the faction murdered a popular left-wing rapper, triggering a wave of arrests of senior Golden Dawn officials and the cessation of government funding to the party.
“We hope the Greek voters will follow the prime minister’s lead and choose in the election to the European Parliament not to export Golden Dawn’s ultra-nationalist, hate-filled, anti-Semitic ideology and rhetoric to Strasbourg and Brussels,” Foxman said.
Jewish groups have largely been supportive of Greece’s efforts, with the World Jewish Congress having called for a European-wide ban on “neo-Nazi” parties such as Hungary’s Jobbik – which garnered a fifth of the vote in recent elections – and Ukraine’s Svoboda.
Golden Dawn has been accused of being behind dozens of attacks on immigrants in Greece. The party is known for its Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leadership.
There are currently about 5,000 Jews living in Greece, down from over 70,000 before the Holocaust.
In explaining Golden Dawn’s electoral successes last year, David Saltiel, then president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told the Post that economic factors alone cannot explain its meteoric rise, a repudiation of some who say that the rise of the right in Europe is in large part due to economic malaise.
It is impossible to say that people voted for Golden Dawn “because of the economic situation,” he said, adding that the party is in part buoyed by resentment against mainstream parties plagued by persistent corruption scandals.
Saltiel’s assertions that there are deeper causes for the party’s widespread popularity seem to be born out by a recent ADL survey that found that the most anti-Semitic country outside of the Middle East and North Africa was Greece, with a 69% anti-Semitism rate.
According to the survey, out of over 9 million Greeks, 6,300,000 harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.
The rise of such parties in a number of European nations has local Jews worried.
Last month, European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor asserted that “normative Jewish life in Europe is unsustainable” as long as the continent’s Jews continue to live in fear.
Citing a November study by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights that showed that almost a third of Jews in several European countries are mulling emigration, Kantor said that “Jews do not feel safe or secure in certain communities in Europe.”
A third of Jews polled by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in 2012 stated they refrain from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear.
Just under a quarter of respondents (23%) said that they avoid attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.
Responding to the ADL survey and Sunday’s election results, Victor Eliezer, a member of the Central Board, told the Post that the only solution is “education, education, education.”
JTA contributed to this report.