Extremist, hateful political groups in Europe that have come to the fore during
the economic crisis may, at least in Greece, finally be facing a
“The most important thing for Greece over the last two years is
the legislation against racism and anti-Semitism,” said Benjamin Abalas,
president of the Athens Jewish community. “I am confident there will be a bill
adopted after the summer.”
Increasing attention in Greek media and public
debate to the need for firm action by political leadership comes in response to
Golden Dawn’s ascendancy.
The Nazi-like party won seven percent of the
national vote last June and today holds 18 out of 300 seats in Greece’s
parliament. Recent polls show the party, feeding off continuing economic despair
and anti-immigrant animus, gaining 10% 12% of popular support.
elections were held now, Golden Dawn would be the third party” in the
parliament, said Abalas.
“It would be a shame for Greece and
While Golden Dawn’s main target has been Muslim immigrants,
its hatred of Jews is no secret. Party leaders have openly questioned the fact
that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and claim that world Jewry,
especially American Jews, are responsible for the current economic
In April, Golden Dawn viciously attacked the American Jewish
Committee (AJC), for the second time in four months. A grotesque cartoon on the
Golden Dawn website depicted Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras sitting on the
floor under a bloody AJC logo in front of a caricatured Jew in a chair,
reminiscent of horrific, Nazi-inspired cartoons of the ‘30s and ‘40s in Europe.
On the wall was a demonized President Barack Obama, portrayed as a religious
Jew. The sinister message of the cartoon, and accompanying article, was American
Jews “control” policy-making in Greece and the US.
For Greece’s Jewish
community, 87% of whom were murdered by the Nazis during World War II, Golden
Dawn is worrisome. Yet Abalas, meeting with me in Washington last week during
AJC’s Global Forum, was calm and confident in discussing the community’s current
challenges, and hopeful about its future.
“We know they don’t like us,”
but so far “we don’t have any problems,” Abalas said of Golden Dawn. No
synagogue, school, monument, cemetery, or person has been assaulted. Still,
security measures have been increased. After all, only one or more individuals
inspired by hateful Golden Dawn rhetoric could cause damage, if not deadly harm,
as has occurred in other European Jewish communities.
A more immediate
concern is the impact of the economic crisis on the Jewish community’s
resources. The community depends heavily on income from its rental properties
and donations from members. Rents are down by 35%, says Abalas, and, due to
extremely high unemployment, many members are withholding their annual
“Total annual income for the community is down by 40% to
45%,” said Abalas, adding quickly that all activities, schools and synagogues
have continued to operate, in part thanks to assistance from US Jewish
A new law that penalizes anti-Semitism and racism, and
Holocaust denial, would be a huge boost for Greece’s Jewish community of 5,000,
down from 80,000 before the Nazi extermination.
I asked Abalas why, if
there is general support across the political spectrum for an anti-racism law,
is it so difficult to settle on an agreed text and get parliamentary approval?
“In my opinion there is no difference” between the proposals of the parties
comprising the government and the opposition, he said. The real inhibitor is
competition to be viewed as the principal author of this potentially
groundbreaking measure. “Every political party in Greece understands it is a
good opportunity to make politics for their own clientele,” said Abalas. “This
is Greek theater.”
Golden Dawn, of course, is the one party in parliament
not supporting the efforts, though it has introduced its own version, aimed at
protecting Geeks against alleged racism by Muslim immigrants.
Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, in his address to AJC’s Global Forum,
did not mention by name Golden Dawn, or other extremist, racist parties in
Europe such as Hungary’s Jobbik, he did not mince words in warning about “the
return of the spectrum of anti-Semitism in Europe,” and calling on Europeans to
stand together to end “a threat that undermines the edifice of peace and
Focusing on the one country where he and the government in
which he serves does have capacity to make a difference, Avramopoulos declared:
“No one should ever believe that the country, which gave birth to democracy and
respect for the human being, which has become the best example of resistance
against Nazism, would ever tolerate and allow the revival of hatred and
Since Prime Minister Samaras and leaders of other political
parties are not considering any proposition to ban Golden Dawn, a strong
anti-racism law, with clear penalties, could help temper its audacious and
dangerous bravado. As Abalas pointed out, this is of import not only to the
Jewish community, but to all of Greek society.
The writer is the American
Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.