The Greek Jewish community expressed “strong resentment” at the appointment of MP Makis Voridis as health minister last week, implying the move was indicative of the government’s failure to act against anti-Semitism. Greece was ranked the most anti-Semitic country outside of the Middle East and North Africa by a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) global survey.
Voridis has a history of membership in ultra-nationalist parties. He was one of several members of the populist, nationalistic Popular Orthodox Rally faction who joined the ruling New Democracy party two years ago. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was criticized for welcoming the nationalists and was accused of pandering to the far right in a bid to stem the loss of votes to the allegedly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which emerged as the third-largest party in Greece.
Samaras maintains that those who joined New Democracy have committed to abide by party policy, which condemns anti-Semitism and racism.
Voridis has since written to the Jewish community, expressing his opposition to Holocaust denial and his commitment to “putting an end to anti-Semitic, racist prejudice which is an outright violation of human dignity.”
In a statement on its website, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece castigated Voridis as someone who had “expressed xenophobic and intolerant views in the past and – until a couple of years ago – had been an executive member of a party that had repeatedly endorsed racist and extreme anti-Semitic views.”
“It is our firm belief that participation in the government should not be used to obliterate the political course of a politician whose attitude and ideology have afflicted democracy,” the group asserted. “The goal should be to send a strong message of brave and determined attitude, leaving no space for misinterpretations and short-term political expediency, to build a solid, firm and effective front against racism, intolerance, anti-Semitism, and the followers of Nazism.”
“Given the alarming results of the recent elections in Greece, which indicate that the policy and efforts undertaken so far by the government to combat these phenomena have proved insufficient, we express the hope that such efforts will be significantly enhanced.”
Speaking with Greek newspaper Kathimerini, ADL national director Abraham Foxman said that he was “saddened and concerned by the appointment of Makis Voridis as Health Minister” and that he believed the appointment undermined Samaras’s fight against anti-Semitism.
The Greek government has cracked down on Golden Dawn’s leadership, arresting many of its top members, including several MPs, following the killing of a popular left-wing rapper by a party sympathizer.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, Konstantinos Karagounis, the Greek deputy minister of justice, transparency, and human rights said that he had changed his mind on how best to combat Golden Dawn.
In an interview with this newspaper last year, Karagounis said a ban of the party deemed neo-Nazi by the World Jewish Congress would be counterproductive, explaining that there are examples of such bans in other countries that “generated the exact opposite result.”
However, in the aftermath of Golden Dawn’s entry into the European Parliament, Karagounis stated that “if you would ask me the same question right now I would say that, yes, this party should be banned.”
JTA contributed to this report.