A Jew in Greece

Being a Jew in Greece has certainly become different, it has certainly become more difficult.

Greeks marching (photo credit: REUTERS)
Greeks marching
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ATHENS – Being a Jew in Greece has certainly become different, it has certainly become more difficult.
Why? The financial crisis driving the whole country well into a deep recession for more than four years has mainly impacted the private sector. Medium and small-sized companies are the major victims of the crisis so far, with closures or huge drops of turnover, lack of liquidity, soaring unemployment etc.
Jews in Greece, traditionally entrepreneurs, merchants and businessmen or executives of all levels in the private sector, have been hit by considerable income reductions. Moreover, as owners of real estate, they have also seen the values of their investments dropping and respective income showing a sharp decrease if not vanishing altogether.
While some have reserves from the good days and can still afford a good quality of life, the majority follow the general population trends with severe financial problems.
The community of Athens, as an indication, is receiving new applications from its members requesting financial assistance through its welfare net and the number of young members addressing the community’s committee for employment assistance has never been so high.
Had it only been the financial aspect, things would certainly have been hard to face, but Jews in Greece have been through very difficult times in the past and they would have found the strength to persevere.
Unfortunately, Jews in Greece are also faced today with an adverse political environment which has direct consequences on them.
Three years ago the Athens Court of Appeals acquitted Costas Plevris, who had been accused of violating the anti-racism law for his despicable book, Jews, The Whole Truth.
The book classified Jews as subhuman and criticized Adolf Hitler for his failure to kill them all.
Unfortunately, politicians, scientists, people of culture, representatives of institutions of this country, the very civil society, supposedly captivated by respect for justice (a la carte in Greece) refused to stand stature and tolerated an irrational decision for which the rationale was based on “freedom of speech and expression.”
Why should they care? It was about Jews, a weak numerical minority in Greece, with little electoral strength, it – the court decision – seemed not to threaten many.
Just 18 months later, the leader of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party, was elected to the Athens City Council and was greeting Athenians by raising his arm in the Nazi salute inside the City Council’s hall. A couple of weeks ago, 450,000 Greek voters have given Golden Dawn an unexpected seven percent and sent to the National Parliament 21 members of this party, who refused to stand – as all other members did – when the three elected Greek Muslim MPs swore on the Koran.
They denied them the right to be Greek, because of their different religion! Of course all mainstream political parties have heavily criticized Golden Dawn and its practices. Democratic reflexes were triggered, alas, too late.
Early signs of Greek society being driven by anger and turning to vote for the extremes did not sufficiently alarmed state officials.
And now, nostalgic ghosts of the Nazis, racists, anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers disguised as Greek Nationalists have already gone over the threshold to mainstream politics. They will be part of Greek Parliament and through their hands and especially their sick minds will pass the laws of the state, which are supposed to ensure the constitutional requirement for equal rights of all citizens, including Jewish citizens.
But there is more – and worse. As Greece is now heading for a new election on June 17, the New Democracy party which scored first in the previous election but did not manage to form a government of its own or by coalition with other pro-Euro parties, has invited all center-right forces to join the party and make a united front against the rise of the left.
Three months before elections, Mr. Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, had already welcomed into the party two candidates originating from LAOS, the other ultraright party, which did not make it this time to the parliament mainly because its voters fled to Golden Dawn. LAOS is by consequence dissolving and some of its former MPs are now turning to find a political shelter in New Democracy.
Among the most prominent is Thanos Plevris, the son of the acquitted Costas Plevris, who has also been his father’s attorney in court. Other politicians, too, are joining New Democracy from LAOS, abandoning their ex-leader Giorgos Karatzaferis, who had stated in the past that Jews are bloodthirsty.
So the party that has traditionally attracted the votes of the majority of Greek Jews, is now providing a shelter to some of the most passionate anti-Semites in Greece.
And all this is happening at times that Greek-Israeli relationships are of unprecedented extent and quality.
Is there fear instilled in Greek Jews? This is very personal.
Some do fear, some do not.
However, it is quite certain that Greek Jewry will not have an easy way forward. Community leaders are very worried by these developments. It is certainly time for international Jewry to act and warn that it will not tolerate any harmful behavior against Jews in Greece, a country that lost in the Holocaust a huge percentage of its Jewish population.
Not easy to be a Jew in Greece nowadays....
The writer is a business executive, an active member of the Jewish Community of Athens and a volunteer at its numerous functions since his youth and for over 30 years.