Golden Dawn crackdown

The recent arrests of Greek Golden Dawn members cannot be separated from the overall concern about anti-Jewish actions in Europe.

Greece's Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
Greece's Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
Last weekend, Greek police raided the homes of several lawmakers from the Golden Dawn party. The party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was paraded in front of media escorted by officers wearing ski masks.
The operation was the culmination of tensions in Greece in which a man connected to the radical party murdered an anti-fascist rapper named Pavlos Fissas on September 17.
Michaloliakos and four other legislators were arrested following massive protests against the party and the decision by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that the legislators had conspired to create a criminal organization.
On September 28, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, voiced support for the government’s actions. “The very essence of democracy in Greece is at stake.... The message is clear from the Greek government that the forces of violent extremism are a threat to society and will not be tolerated,” he said.
The rise of Golden Dawn has set off alarm bells in Europe about the power of the far Right amid the economic crisis and controversy over immigration.
After receiving only 20,000 votes in 2009, it jumped to 400,000 in 2012, winning 18 seats and making it the fourth-largest party in Greece’s 300-member parliament.
Its symbol, which the party claims is a classical Greek art motif, has been compared to the swastika. Similarly, the party’s members style themselves in all black and have been seen giving the Nazi salute.
Golden Dawn has been involved in anti-Semitic diatribes, with party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, one of those arrested and remanded to jail, allegedly denying the Holocaust and bashing a Jewish businessman.
In January, the party accused Harris of being interested in Greece because of “international loan sharks,” implying that complaints about anti-Semitism were motivated by greed, itself an anti-Semitic trope. The party’s campaign videos show trash-strewn parks and claim supporters want to “take back the country from foreigners... My employment will not become money in the pockets of third world immigrants.”
The government may, however, face hurdles in its case against the legislators. It has already released three of the lawmakers who were arrested. It will be difficult to prosecute the others based on an attempt to link them to violent acts by supporters. Also there is concern that arresting members of parliament may constitute political suppression, more than a grappling with the racist acts of the party’s supporters.
A leading Greek newspaper, Kathimerini, which tends to support the moderate Right, noted, “The prosecution of opposition parties almost invariably represents an abuse of power for political ends, damaging the rule of law....
The arrest of six neo-fascist Golden Dawn politicians in Greece is no exception – although in this case it may also be the least bad option for Greek authorities.”
If the arrests backfire and galvanize support for the party that depicts itself as being victimized, the result could be the opposite of what was intended.
The alarm bells set off by the rise of Golden Dawn are similar to those sounded over the rise of the radical Right in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. These parties combine anti-Semitism with anti-immigrant racism.
This raises two important issues. First, it means there is a common ground for Jews to work with other minorities in Europe on the issue. This can be especially useful in places where immigrant groups, particularly Muslims, are being infiltrated by clerics who preach hate against Jews.
The outcome of this hate speech was clear in the Toulouse murders in 2012 that targeted a Jewish school.
Another concern is the political attack on circumcision, as manifested in the Council of Europe declaring that it violates the integrity of children and that states should “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and interreligious dialogue, aimed at reaching a large consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards.”
The arrests of Golden Dawn members cannot be separated from the overall concern about anti-Jewish actions in Europe. Golden Dawn is a highly visible, nasty party, but the larger context is anti-Semitism that manifests itself not only on the Right, but also among the extreme Left and Islamists and in less pernicious but equally disturbing calls to ban circumcision and kosher slaughter.