Investigation on antisemitism in Greece – Part 1: The state of affairs

This first part of the DILCRAH[1] report about antisemitism in Greece, part of the European Survey on the state of public policies to combat antisemitism, reveals the worrying spread of prejudice against Jews in Greek society. Whether through the testimonies of Greek Jews, politicians or opinion polls, it is clear that antisemitism is an integral part of the Greek political landscape, although it is expressed less violently than elsewhere. The second part of this report looks at how the Greek authorities intend to tackle this problem, which seems to be deeply rooted in the country’s history and political culture. 


Greek landscape – George E. Koronaios


In the Vardaris district of the northern Greek city of Thessalonica, once home to the modest Jewish quarter of Ramona, a community group has created a mural in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Thessaloniki lost most of its Jewish population: almost 45,000 people, or 95% of the thriving Jewish community at the time. Shortly after its completion in March 2021, the fresco was vandalized and smeared with Nazi symbols and the initials of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, just a few months after the court ruling that branded the party a criminal organization. A second act of vandalism took place in January 2023, again featuring swastikas and symbols of Golden Dawn.

“Golden Dawn didn’t get 10% in the elections by favoring antisemitism rhetoric, but anti-system rhetoric, with a secondary focus on Islamophobia. If antisemitism really offered political advantages for this party, it would invest in it. When the crucial moment arrived, that of political gains, this neo-Nazi entity did not bet on antisemitism”, asserts Giorgos Kalantzis, General Secretary for Religious Affairs, in charge of the fight against antisemitism.

Giorgos Kalantzis, General Secretary for Religious Affairs, in charge of the fight against antisemitism.

Asked about the different ideological expressions of antisemitism, Mr. Kalantzis answers without hesitation. “The antisemitism of the far right, which is profoundly anti-democratic and opposed to human values as we understand them, is totally different from the antisemitism that develops in part of the left, which is linked to the left’s perception of Israeli policies. When antisemitism becomes entangled with criticism of Israeli policies, it is much more difficult to discern and combat”.

Chrisoula Aliferi is the ambassador, director general for the Greek diaspora and special envoy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the fight against antisemitism and the protection of the memory of the Holocaust within the Greek delegation to the IHRA. We asked her if the various manifestations of antisemitism in Greece were linked to current events, such as the economic crisis or the conflict in the Middle East: “I’m afraid so. The successive crises that have hit Greek society (such as the financial and social crisis, the immigration and asylum-seeker crisis or COVID-19) have unfortunately encouraged the widespread propagation of hateful feelings against any form of difference (against the “other”). Anonymous messages on the Internet and social networks have facilitated this spread. This is not, of course, an exclusively Greek phenomenon, as it also occurs in many other Western countries”.

Antisemitism is part of a broader trend, with conspiracy theories, anti-system sentiments, the construction of scapegoats and easy explanations for complex phenomena.

Every year, the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs publishes statistics on acts committed against religious sites (places of worship, cemeteries, religious schools and monuments). Most incidents, over 50%, concern the Orthodox Christian Church, mainly theft and burglary. “The second religious community targeted by attacks is the Greek Jewish community, which is quite disproportionate to its population, and so obviously reflects a climate of antisemitism. It’s undeniable,” says Kalantzis. Attacks on Jewish sites generally take the form of vandalism targeting Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials.

Ambassador Aliferi believes that “the Greek government has taken consistent measures to combat antisemitism, with very positive results. Unfortunately, the manifestations of antisemitism persist. They take the form of rare incidents of vandalism to Jewish monuments or cemeteries, and hate speech, particularly on the Internet. These incidents are, of course, thoroughly investigated by the authorities.”

“Antisemitism is part of a broader trend, with conspiracy theories, anti-system sentiments, the construction of scapegoats and easy explanations for complex phenomena,” says Kalantzis. “There is diffuse antisemitism on the Internet, in certain newspapers and websites, but they are not distinguished exclusively by their antisemitism. Widespread antisemitism does not exist in Greece; we have no indication of that. Similarly, so far we have not seen antisemitism in the form of attacks on life or property,” he hastens to point out.

Chrisoula Aliferi, ambassador, director general for the Greek diaspora and special envoy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the fight against antisemitism and the protection of the memory of the Holocaust within the Greek delegation to the IHRA.

“Antisemitism in Greece does not form organized groups as is the case in other countries. No violent acts have been committed against individuals or premises. Apart from a few extremists – very few indeed – who deliberately express themselves in an antisemitic way, explicit or implicit antisemitism is mainly the work of certain sections of Greek society who, for various reasons, tend to believe mindlessly in conspiracy theories and react negatively to ideas or beliefs of their own. They may also appear in marginal media outlets with a limited readership. Nevertheless, they do not characterize Greek society as a whole”, reassures Ms. Aliferi.

What experience of antisemitism do Greek Jews have?

The day after the Thessaloniki mural was vandalized, a municipal team erased the slogans in the presence of German consul Sybille Bendig and David Saltiel, president of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Greek Holocaust Museum which is still under construction.

A few hours later, I met Mr. Saltiel on the premises of the Thessaloniki Jewish community, where the police presence was larger than usual. “I have to have security. I’m… a suitable target; it makes sense to protect me. Security is reinforced in the community and at the Jewish school. Prevention is better than cure,” he tells me. However, he doesn’t justify the security measures by antisemitism in Greece, but rather by the jihadists who could be operating throughout Europe. “There is antisemitism, I’m not going to say otherwise… but here in Greece we don’t have violent incidents like in France or Belgium. It’s light antisemitism, which remains at the level of words”.

I asked Mr. Saltiel if he could remember when he first felt treated differently. “Well, I already felt antisemitism when I was in public school. When I went there in the morning, the kids would make the sign of the cross, but not me; they’d look at me and say, “There’s the Jew”. In third or fourth grade, during religious studies class, we studied the New Testament, and a good student asked the teacher, “If the guilt of Jesus’ crucifixion falls on the children of the children of the Jews, does Saltiel also bear the guilt of the crucifixion?”. I don’t remember what the professor answered, because I felt as if the world around me was disappearing; I lowered my head in embarrassment.” During our conversation, he recalled another incident from his childhood: “Once, I was with my Christian friends and we were collecting flowers for the Epitaphios. We asked a lady, “Could we have some flowers?” and she asked us, “Why do you need the Jew?”. The children started running because they were afraid of the Jew – not of me, since they didn’t know, I hadn’t told them I was Jewish – they were afraid of the unknown. I ran with them. The next day, they said: “This lady is crazy”, and I replied: “She’s not crazy, I’m Jewish”. Nothing happened, we remained friends. Nevertheless, Mr. Saltiel seems to have more or less normalized the antisemitism of his environment. “I’ve always been Jewish for others. In fact, my family name is distinctive. Even if I was shy, I’d say I was Jewish because I was. I was a quiet kid, I wasn’t looking for trouble, but I did hear the occasional “dirty Jew”. Well… but it didn’t really bother me. I got over it; I didn’t pay any attention to it”.

It would be unthinkable for a Greek Jew to wear a yarmulke in public.

Iosif Vaena, a pharmacist and connoisseur of Thessaloniki’s Jewish history, worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of the city’s Jewish community. He used to collect tombstones looted during the destruction of the Jewish cemetery by the local Christian community during the Nazi occupation. His approach has evolved over time, and he now believes that these gravestones are best left scattered in place: they are a poignant reminder of the atrocious treatment meted out by the local community to its Jewish compatriots.

Mr. Vaena highlights the trivialization of antisemitism in Greece, pointing out that while there are few violent attacks on individuals, Greek Jews take extreme precautions and security measures are deeply ingrained in their habitus. He contrasts the situation with other countries, claiming that it would be unthinkable for a Greek Jew to wear a yarmulke in public, while the problem is different for a French Jew.

Iosif Vaena, pharmacist and connoisseur of Thessaloniki’s Jewish history

He points out that antisemitism is endemic, something which Jews express alarm at in private discussions, but often play down in public. Mr. Vaena deplores the fact that Jewish tombstones and property looted during the Second World War are widespread in Thessaloniki, continuing to appear in everyday life as if nothing had happened. Moreover, he criticizes the discourse surrounding the Holocaust, noting the prevalence of the narrative that Greeks saved the Jews, while Christian responsibility is rarely mentioned.

Although he acknowledges some improvement, he points to a historical gap that is difficult to close, recalling that until the 1990s, Jews were not allowed to become teachers. Mr. Vaena stresses the profound gap between what is considered acceptable in Greece and in the Western world, particularly when it comes to “harmless” antisemitism graffiti, Jewish tombstones in churches and biased newspaper headlines. He points out that, while the Greek atmosphere may not seem particularly antisemitic at first glance, problems inevitably arise when Jewish identity becomes visible and the question of Israel is raised.

Following the attacks on October 7, security measures were stepped up around the Jewish community school in Thessaloniki, where Pola Tarampoulous is a music teacher. Already when she was a student at the same school, security had been stepped up in response to terrorist activities linked to the Palestinian cause in the country. “I don’t remember anyone explaining why these barricades had been put up,” she says. “When I was a child, I didn’t realize there was antisemitism in Greece. I didn’t experience any events serious enough to shock me. At school, I grew up in a protected environment and my parents never told me to hide my Jewish identity. Growing up, I was never afraid to reveal my Jewish origins. Once or twice, people must have said something annoying to me, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. However, when I started to follow the news on TV, and became better informed about antisemitism, I began to understand its presence in society,” she adds.

Ms. Taraboulous recalls an episode when someone, learning that she worked at the Jewish school, told her that she didn’t have to worry about anything, because “they have money”. The situation escalated when, after she disclosed her Jewishness, the person expressed surprise, saying she didn’t “look Jewish” because she was cute and didn’t have a hooked nose! This experience opened her eyes to the existence of deep-seated stereotypes about Jews. “I still can’t believe there are people out there who actually believe that Jews look like that,” she declares.

While the Greek atmosphere may not seem particularly antisemitic at first glance, problems inevitably arise when Jewish identity becomes visible and the question of Israel is raised.

At some point, as the conflicts in Israel intensified, Taramboulous began to wonder whether she should be more cautious and whether it was wise to continue going to synagogue. When asked how the echoes of the war affect the way she feels on a daily basis, she says she thinks about it a lot, but has decided not to let the fear overwhelm her. However, she admits to being frightened and angry when she encounters anti-Jewish slogans, particularly at the Holocaust memorial. She recounts a harrowing experience, when she found herself facing a Golden Dawn march after leaving her children at the Jewish community center for Kabbalat Sabbath. “They were wearing helmets and brandishing bats. I thought they were all staring at me, heading my way, I felt threatened. I heard slogans – I don’t even remember if they were about Jews, but I remember the feeling, it was terrifying. I immediately called my husband to come and get us”. She expresses both indignation and sadness at the existence, in 2023, of people who view differences with suspicion and hostility. “Stereotypes persist, and I don’t know when or how they will disappear. Recently, I saw in the newspapers that Stars of David had been painted on doors in Germany and that a sign saying “Jews not welcome” had been put up in a store in Istanbul. My God, are we going to experience situations like this again? It’s unbelievable.

Leon Saltiel, historian, member of the Greek delegation to the IHRA and representative of the World Jewish Council at the UN, recalls that his surname always raised questions about whether a Jew could be Greek. He describes antisemitism in Greece as stemming from ignorance and curiosity, calling it vulgar rather than violent or racial antisemitism. Despite his public presence through books, articles and official statements, he affirms that he has not encountered any significant antisemitism attacks on social networks, with the exception of an online offensive led by Golden Dawn.

Leon Saltiel Cc Shahar Azran
Some recent surveys

Until 2010, there were no systematic studies of antisemitism in Greece. Over the following years, various organizations carried out their own research and, as George Antoniou, Associate Professor of Modern Greek History and former Chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, points out, “the results were quite disturbing”. This triggered a public debate, and from then on no one could pretend to ignore the issue of antisemitism in the country. Antoniou, along with Leon Saltiel, Stavros Kosmidis and Elias Dinas, were among the first to conduct scientific research into antisemitism in Greece. According to Antoniou, there is a mentality known as the “culture of victimization”, according to which Greeks are victims of history, whose unjust suffering is greater than that of other ethnic groups, such as Bosnians or Armenians. In surveys on the Jews, 70% of respondents replied that the Greek people had suffered far more than the Jewish people in the course of history, and that they had suffered worse genocides than the Jews – a claim that is difficult to sustain. This “race to victimize” encourages competition rather than identifying antisemitism. 

Beyond perceptions linked to anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories, Antoniou notes that antisemitism also manifests itself in relation to events in the Middle East. “In 65% of cases, opinion considers that the State of Israel is doing to the Palestinians exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Second World War, i.e. an extreme form of genocidal extermination. If we could assess it right now, I think the percentage would be significantly higher”, he believes.

We present below the main findings of three published studies.

a) The first study to cause a stir was published by ADL in 2014, finding that 69% of the Greek population agrees with one or more antisemitic opinions. The study, repeated in 2015, placed Greece among the top three countries, outside the Middle East and North Africa, with the highest levels of antisemitism (67% versus 24% in Western Europe). The survey revealed that a large proportion of Greeks believe that Jews have too much power in the business world (90%), in international financial markets (85%), in world affairs (72%), that they talk too much about the Holocaust (70%), that they have too much control over the US government (65%) and that they are more loyal to Israel than to Greece (59%).

b) In a 2017 study commissioned by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung Greece, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with antisemitic statements such as “Jews exploit the Holocaust to get better treatment on the international stage” (64% “agree” or “strongly agree”), “Israel treats the Palestinians in exactly the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews” (65%), “Jews have a lot of power in international affairs” (92%), and “Jews should not be allowed to buy land in Greece” (21%). When respondents were asked to rate their trust in Jews on a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 corresponding to high trust), over 37% chose 0, and around 60% declared a level of trust below 5.

c) Another survey conducted in 2021 by the Action and Protection League (APL), a partner organization of the European Jewish Association, revealed that Greece, along with Poland and Hungary, is the country where the population harbors the most negative feelings towards Jews, and where antisemitism prejudice is widespread. Greece scored highest for cognitive antisemitism, with the highest response rates for 9 out of 10 antisemitic statements. In terms of secondary antisemitism, Greece achieved the highest response score for 4 out of 6 antisemitic statements, and second place for the remaining 2 statements. Some of the survey results (combined percentage of “strongly agree” and “agree” responses) are as follows:

– There is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs around the world (Total sample: 21% GR: 59%).

– Jews are more likely than most people to use dishonest practices to achieve their goals (SD: 16%, GR: 43%)

– Jews have too much influence in this country (ET: 16% GR: 40%)

– Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society. (ET: 17%, GR: 36%)

– The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population. (ET: 22% GR: 45%)

– It would be better if the Jews left this country. (AND: 9% PL: 24% GR: 23%)

– It would be reasonable to limit the number of Jews in certain professions. (AND : 10% GR : 29%)

– It’s always better to be a little careful with Jews (ET: 18% GR: 48%)

– Jews are also responsible for the persecution they suffer. (ET: 14% GR: 37%)

– The number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust is much lower than generally claimed.  (ET: 11%, GR: 23%)

– Many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were later exaggerated by Jews. (AND: 12%, GR: 32%)

– Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own ends (ET: 22% GR: 46%)

– After so many decades since the persecution of the Jews, the Holocaust should be removed from the public agenda. (ET: 19%, GR: 40%)

If antisemitism in Greece is limited to words, it must be approached differently from that which gives rise to acts of violence. ” Mr. Kalantzis

I asked Mr. Kalantzis to comment on the fact that in all the surveys, whatever the methodology or the organization carrying them out, Greece ranks first or second. First of all, he points out a parameter which, in his opinion, can lead to erroneous conclusions: “the word ‘Holocaust’ is of Greek origin and was used before the Shoah (Holocaust). So if you ask a Greek about this term, which has been used since 1866 for the Holocaust in Arcadia, in order to gauge the importance he attaches to the Holocaust of the Jews, it’s completely biased and doesn’t help us, who want to make policy”, he notes. “If the methodology used leads to illogical figures that don’t reflect reality, then you provide an argument for those who claim there is no antisemitism by saying that ‘the surveys simply defame the country’. This is not the case. Antisemitism exists, the surveys you mention have aspects that clearly show there is a problem. But we need to understand its characteristics and how to remedy it”. Mr. Kalantzis points out that some countries have lower rates of antisemitism, but incidents of violence against Jews and destruction of property are far more recurrent there than in Greece. “If antisemitism in Greece is limited to words, it must be approached differently from that which gives rise to acts of violence. We lack a serious study that takes into account the Greek reality and provides explanations. I’d like to have our own study that takes these factors into account, so that we know what policies to implement”. I asked Mr. Kalantzis if the Greek state would carry out such a study in order to devise appropriate policies to combat antisemitism: “You’re right, we’ve asked the European Commission for funding to carry out a study. If we have the funding, I’ll carry out the study; if we don’t, how can I carry it out? “

Ms. Aliferi believes that “some research, while serious and well-intentioned, sometimes tends to overestimate the aforementioned tendency of a certain number of Greeks. On the other hand, some research tends to underestimate, or even forget, the very significant progress that the Greek state and society have made over the last 15 years or so in combating antisemitism, in paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, in promoting issues relating to our Jewish community, in cooperation between the Greek and Jewish diasporas abroad, and so on. Ultimately, all these positive developments have been widely reflected in the Greek public sphere, in Greek society and in the mainstream Greek media. There is always more that can be done, and we are constantly working in this direction”.

However, Professor Antoniou points out that “there is no scientific logic in questioning the results of consecutive surveys, especially when there has been no other study providing reassuring results on Greek public opinion. Until such a study is carried out, we consider that the problem still exists”.

Sofia Christoforidou

Read the next part of this report in next week’s K.

Sofia Christoforidou lives in Thessaloniki, Greece, and has been a journalist for over twenty years. She is a member of the Union of Journalists of the Macedonian and Thracian Daily Newspapers, an editor for the newspaper “Makedonia” and a freelancer for the award-winning investigative journal
Previously, she worked for the third channel of the Greek public broadcaster ERT3 and the Thessaloniki municipal TV channel TV100, and was a scientific collaborator on the research project “Post-war transformation of Thessaloniki and the fate of Jewish property”, funded by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation. She has interviewed Holocaust survivors and written articles on the history and microhistory of Greek Jews.

This is the first in a series of articles conceived in partnership by K. magazine and DILCRAH, as part of a European survey on the state of public policies to combat antisemitism. Over the coming months, we will be looking at different European countries in the same way, before offering a summary. Aimed at comparing the diversity of manifestations of antisemitism in different national contexts, this survey highlights an antisemitism that is less structured at the political level, but sufficiently widespread in public opinion that its manifestations have come to be normalized.


1 In France, the Interministerial Delegation for Combating Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hatred (DILCRAH) is an interministerial body set up in 2012 to devise, coordinate and lead the State’s policy on combating racism, antisemitism and, since 2016, anti-LGBT hatred.

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