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'Pro-bailout parties win majority in Greek vote'
By GIL SHEFLER AND REUTERS
06/18/2012
Polls predict win for center-left New Democracy party; 2nd-place SYRIZA faction vows to cut military ties with Israel.
 
Political parties supporting austerity measures will be able to form a slim coalition government in Greece, according to early exit polls from the elections released on Sunday night.

Several polls predicted New Democracy, a center-right party, won the election, receiving between 28.6 to 30 percent of the vote, while SYRIZA, a far-left coalition, came a close second garnering between 27-29%.

PASOK, the center-left party expected to be New Democracy’s ally in implementing austerity measures imposed by the European Union, received between 11- 12.5% of the popular vote.

Golden Dawn, a far-right party whose leader denied the Holocaust, received around 7%, roughly the same as the last elections in May.

Because of a 50-seat bonus given to the party which comes in first, that predicted result would give New Democracy and PASOK a projected 159 seats in the 300- seat parliament, in an alliance committed to a 130 billion euro ($164 billion) EU/IMF bailout keeping the country from bankruptcy.

SYRIZA, led by a 37-year-old former communist, has vowed to tear up the punishing terms of the deal, potentially sending the country crashing out of Europe’s single currency and rocking the euro to its core.

The predicted triumph of the pro-bailout bloc was expected to be received with relief in many European capitals as well as in Jerusalem, whose close ties with Athens might have suffered if SYRIZA had won.

Earlier this month, the leftist group released a foreign relations manifesto in which it vowed to cease Greece’s military cooperation with Israel and criticized the Jewish state’s regional policies.

“Besides the total and unequivocal opposition to military cooperation between Greece and Israel, we must work effectively to cancel this agreement and directly or indirectly prevent a potential war with Iran and in the Arab world,” the manifesto stated, according to local media.

Later in the text, the party calls for Israel’s withdrawal from “occupied Palestinian territories and the territories of Syria and Lebanon,” and the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.

SYRIZA, a loose coalition whose disparate components belong to a broad range of individuals associated with the European Left, tends to be critical of Israel and allied with the Palestinians. Some senior members participated in the 2010 flotilla to Gaza, when nine Turkish activists were killed in a takeover of a ship by Israeli commandos, a Greek Jewish official said.

Meanwhile, Jews in Greece on Sunday were following the elections closely for different reasons.

Some Greek Jews, which number about 5,000 people and are based mostly in Athens and Thessaloniki, worry that an even deeper recession than the one the country is going through now might pose an existential threat to their community.

Earlier this year Jewish leaders in Athens had to ask for a bailout from brethren abroad to prevent the closure of the only Jewish school in the capital.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Jewish Agency for Israel, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany and the American Jewish Committee, among others, responded by channeling hundreds of thousands of dollars each to help the cashstrapped community.

Said Alberto Sandery of JDC via phone from New York: “We don’t react like this when there’s some normal financial downturn – only when it’s dramatic the way it was in Argentina 10 years ago, or the way it is in Greece now.”

Meanwhile, many Greek Jews have left the country in search of better job opportunities or are considering doing so.

Yvonne Kapon, a school teacher in Athens born in Thessaloniki, said last week many of her Jewish friends were weighing their options overseas.

“Of course, Israel is in our DNA and for me that’s the only option,” she said. “But the other popular destinations, especially for those who don’t want to learn a new language [because most Greek Jews already speak English], is Britain.”

Shay Ferber, the Jewish Agency for Israel official tasked with coordinating its operations in Greece, last week said his organization was prepared to help Jews make aliya.

Yet another cause of concern for Greek Jews has been the rapid rise in popularity of Golden Dawn, a far-right party whose emblem resembles a swastika. It received 6.97% of the popular vote in the last election in May.

“When one knows their views it makes us very, very worried – not only as Jews but as Greeks in general – because their views are extreme,” said Sakis Leon, the secretary-general of the Jewish community of Athens, last week. “So it does worry us a lot and it makes us think that the whole political spectrum now is different. We are watching the situation closely.”
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