Investigation on antisemitism in Greece – Part 2 : Combat policies

This second part of the survey on the specifics of Greek antisemitism looks at how the public authorities intend to combat this phenomenon, based on eyewitness accounts. However, given the Orthodox Church’s responsibility in spreading anti-Jewish prejudice, the difficulties of organizing the fight against misinformation and antisemitism on the Internet, and the increase in acts of vandalism during outbreaks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the task seems particularly arduous.


Wall inscription, Thessaloniki, 2023


=> First part : Investigation on antisemitism in Greece : The state of affairs

The responsibility of the Greek Orthodox Church

In the APL survey on antisemitism (2021), Greece has the highest rate in Europe of people who strongly agree and agree with two statements indicating traditional religious anti-Judaism: “Even today, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an unforgivable sin committed by the Jews” (39% VS 13% in the total sample), and “The suffering of the Jews is a punishment from God” (24% VS 8% in the total sample). “The idea that the Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus justifies the Holocaust. Such an approach has never been dominant on the Orthodox side”, says Kalantzis. On the contrary, David Saltiel, President of the Jewish Communities of Greece, insists on the Orthodox Church’s responsibility for Greek antisemitism: “Catholics accept that the Romans crucified Jesus, it wasn’t the Jewish people who decided on the crucifixion. But even today, in the Orthodox Church, children are poisoned by these ideas from an early age. On the contrary, we try to tell them that Jews are good”.

I asked the General Secretary for Religious Affairs whether he thought the Orthodox Church was part of the problem, and whether it could become part of the solution: indeed, whether in one direction or the other, it influences a significant part of Greek society. “Yes, there are problems. I won’t forget some monks from Mount Athos – though not part of the Orthodox Church by decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch – who took part in a demonstration in 2012 in central Athens. Their dean made statements about the president of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, N. Michaloliakos, recounting that he is the Greek Hitler coming to ‘clear things up’, and he attacked Greek Jews and Jews in general, because Greek Jews are few in number. So the problem obviously exists, and of course there are members of the clergy who hold such views. The Greek Church is vast and includes everything. I would remind you that there were indirect supporters of Golden Dawn within it. Yes, the Church is part of the problem, not the main one – that’s about political groupings – and yes, it’s also part of the solution. The Orthodox Church is already taking steps to be part of the solution through the Foundation for Pastoral Formation, which has organized seminars for priests on combating antisemitism, through the Orthodox Center and through Interfaith Dialogue. It has also made other arrangements, with priests taking part in specialized seminars in collaboration with Yad Vashem. The Church participates in all events linked to the memory of the Holocaust, as well as in events for the award of the title of Righteous Among the Nations – I remind you that Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens was honored with this title. On occasions when the Church has shown antisemitism, it has been accused of it by the archbishop himself. So this approach is making progress. I would also like to remind you that the Archbishop of Cyprus and the Chief Rabbi of Israel have issued a joint statement, and of course, the Ecumenical Patriarch has spoken out on numerous occasions in a very clear, unequivocal manner”.

On the internet, “The word ‘Jew’ is attributed as an accusation and a denigrating characterization.”

According to Mr. Kalantzis, “The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for propaganda, particularly through closed communities. However, a question arises: how can we limit this discourse on the Internet, prevent the poisoning of the mind by such propaganda, especially concerning young people who lack experience, while preserving freedom of expression? This is not a national problem, it’s a European one, and right now, even the Commission doesn’t know how to tackle it. We’ll do what we can, because the Internet is also an opportunity for us to speak out, share our experiences and highlight the darker side of antisemitism”.

The Greek Hoaxes journalistic team does fact-checking and collaborates with Facebook (META). To understand the expression of antisemitism on the Internet, we asked the team’s editor-in-chief, Dimitris Alikakos, to tell us about the conspiracy myths and theories about Jews with which they are most confronted. “The most common myths circulating on social networks in Greece are “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the denial of the existence of the Holocaust, or the idea that the number of victims was much lower and was simply exaggerated by the Jews to achieve their sinister aims. Similarly, from time to time, a Jewish origin is attributed to various political figures, such as the Papandreou family, Kostas Karamanlis, Karolos Papoulias, Evangelos Venizelos, Kostas Simitis, and others. The word ‘Jew’ is often used with a pejorative connotation to arouse antisemitism in readers. A conspiracy theory that emerged in 2012 claimed that the government spokesman at the time, Elias Mosialos, was Jewish, and that his real name was ‘Elias Mossia’. The myth resurfaced in 2021 when he became the central government’s representative to international organizations for the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another widespread myth is that there were no Jews in the Twin Towers because they had been warned in advance, or that Jews don’t get cancer. Our experience shows that disinformation targeting Jews is mainly spread by extreme right-wing circles. The aim is to discredit the word ‘Jew’ and anyone associated with the State of Israel. The word ‘Jew’ is attributed as an accusation and a denigrating characterization,” says Mr. Alikakos.

“In recent years, I’ve noticed an increase in antisemitism and conspiracy comments on the internet,” explains Dimitris Kravvaris, who mainly monitors Twitter, Facebook and partly Instagram, as well as the Greek blogosphere. “This is clearly an international trend, and the Greek case is no exception. Two things surprise me about the latter, however. Firstly, comments with obvious antisemitism aspects are rarely deleted by the administrators responsible – often, I even get the impression that major newspapers don’t even check what is being discussed in comments reacting to their publications. Secondly, many of these comments reveal an obsession with Hellenic-Christian culture. In this context, the Jewish element is treated as a foreign body, even as a dark or threatening force. Reactions to Niki Kerameos’ condemnation of the vandalism of the monument dedicated to the ancient Jewish cemetery in Thessaloniki are typical. I’m not sure that all these commentators are exclusively members or voters of Golden Dawn or other far-right formations. This syndrome of competition with the memory of the Holocaust, which often leads to a series of persistent questions such as ‘why haven’t you said a word about genocide A or B? / why are you ignoring the Greeks in favor of the Jews? ‘, is undoubtedly linked to the self-victimization of part of Greek public opinion,” he declares.

“There is a clear increase in antisemitism incidents whenever there are conflicts in the Middle East”

During the period in which we conducted the interviews for this report, the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel occurred, followed by Israel’s war in Gaza. A few days after our interview with Mr. Kalantzis, the fresco commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in the Vardaris district was vandalized for the third time since its creation. Once again, a swastika appeared, but this time without the initials of Golden Dawn; instead, it was the Star of David that was equated with the Nazi symbol. In addition, slogans such as “Free Gaza” and “Jews=Nazi” were written.

In the northern Greek town of Kavala, the monument commemorating the Holocaust has been vandalized once again. This type of vandalism is not uncommon during outbreaks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time, however, the attacks were not confined to the monuments. Unknown assailants smashed the window of a Jewish store in Larissa and wrote antisemitism slogans in front of Jewish homes in Volos, once again equating the Star of David with the swastika and Jews with Nazis.

In addition, Internet comments, messages linked to events in Palestine, articles and drawings of an antisemitism nature multiplied in the media. Some Jews in Greece became frightened, and the few who wore yarmulkes or Stars of David in public places began to reconsider.

“In the current context of the serious conflict in Gaza following the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7, we have once again seen in Greece and around the world an acute resurgence of antisemitism rhetoric. In some other countries, antisemitism is also on the rise. But we must remain vigilant. It is absolutely wrong to hold Jews everywhere responsible for the actions of the Israeli government. Antisemitism in both rhetoric and action must be outlawed. At the same time, we must put forward a perspective for resolving the Middle East question, in accordance with international law,” says Mr. Aliferi.

“There is a clear increase in antisemitic incidents whenever there are conflicts in the Middle East,” says blogger Dimitris Kravvaris, who has been monitoring manifestations of antisemitism for years, mainly on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, but also in the Greek blogosphere. “When it comes to the Middle East, the majority of the Greek left stubbornly refuses to change its position: whatever happens, Israel is ‘evil’, the ‘colonizer’, the ‘criminal’, the ‘Nazi’. We see this even after the genocidal attack by Hamas. I also think that antisemitism is encouraged by the publication of articles and sketches with uncontrolled connections and anti-Zionist extensions (depicting Gaza as Guernica, the stoning of the Israeli flag by the Unknown Soldier). The desecration of the fresco in Thessalonica and the attack on the Jewish store did not come out of nowhere”.

In a recent survey on antisemitism (APL, 2021), it is worth noting that Greece has the highest or second-highest score for antisemitic hostility to Israel. Thus, 28% of the Greek sample “agrees” or “strongly agrees” with the statement “Because of Israel’s policies, I hate Jews more and more” (15% in the total sample); 45% with “When I think about Israel’s policies, I understand why some people hate Jews” (26% in the ET); 49% that “Israelis behave like Nazis towards Palestinians” (26% in the ET).

What is the response at state level?

Mr. Kalantzis has held the post of Secretary General for Religious Affairs for over 12 years, with particular responsibility for combating antisemitism. “The country has made a series of efforts in recent years, starting with the establishment of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every year, on January 27, the first two hours of class are devoted to a commemoration of the Holocaust in every school in the country. In addition, ten years ago we launched an annual student video competition on the Holocaust, as a result of which the winning schools – around 150 students each year – go on an educational visit to the Auschwitz Museum. This is by far one of the Ministry of Education’s most successful initiatives, with long-term results. Children who take part in this process become ambassadors for an idea. We have also changed the nature of the “Righteous Among the Nations” awards. Previously held at the Israeli Embassy, a school now takes on the role of “adopting” the event. Four such events have taken place in recent years. This involves massive dissemination of information, because the people who attend this event remember it forever”. With regard to measures to combat antisemitism, Mr. Kalantzis also mentions the seminars organized for educators, in collaboration with the Jewish Museum of Greece, “because if you don’t have educators who are aware of the problem, you can’t make policies”.

I asked Ambassador Aliferi about the initiatives taken by Greece as a member (as well as during its presidency in 2021) of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. “In line with IHRA guidelines, Holocaust education is included in school textbooks, while training seminars dedicated to the subject are organized for educators. In early 2019, the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs adopted the non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism formulated by the IHRA in 2016. In November 2019, Greece adopted the working definition of Holocaust denial formulated by the IHRA in 2013, becoming the first country to do so. The central theme of the Greek Presidency (2021-2022) was Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust: Education for a World Without Genocide Ever Again, complemented by the theme of Combating Holocaust Denial and Distortion on the Internet. During our presidency, we have organized over fifteen seminars, educational programs and workshops on Holocaust education and training for educators, public officials, clergy and other public servants, some of them in collaboration with countries such as Austria, Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia, or institutions such as Yad Vashem, the Shoah Memorial and the American Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Jewish Museum of Greece also made a significant contribution to all these projects. A major event was the international conference on Combating Antisemitism, Holocaust Distortion and Denial on the Digital Terrain, held in the city of Ioannina from October 7 to 9, 2022, and organized by the Greek Delegation of the IHRA, in collaboration with the Municipality of Ioannina (due to the pandemic, it was not possible to organize this conference during the Greek Presidency). During the Greek Presidency, North Macedonia became the 35th full member of the IHRA, and Cyprus and Brazil were granted observer status, thus broadening the Alliance’s influence”.

The previous anti-racism law (927/79) led to the condemnation of the newspaper Eleftheros Kosmos[1] (which claimed that Jews should not exist in Greece). Konstantinos Plevris, lawyer and author of the book Jews: The Whole Truth, which denies the Holocaust, was convicted of incitement to racial hatred. However, he appealed and was eventually acquitted. In September 2014, the Greek Parliament passed a new anti-racism law (no. 4285/2014) as part of the crackdown on Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-Nazi party. The new law explicitly prohibits the denial or trivialization of certain crimes, such as those perpetrated during the Holocaust. The Greek judiciary dissolved Golden Dawn and sentenced its leading figures to prison terms.

Following the adoption of the first European strategy to combat antisemitism, the Greek government decided to entrust the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs with the task of drafting a comprehensive National Action Plan to combat antisemitism. This Plan will be adopted and presented to the EU as soon as the relevant debate between stakeholders, including Greece’s Jewish community and civil society entities, has been completed. Mr. Kalantzis is confident that the national strategy to combat antisemitism will be implemented by 2024. What will this plan include? Essentially, it consists of the actions that each government ministry voluntarily commits to implementing, with targets and a timetable. “First and foremost, the national strategy sets the objective of combating antisemitism on a national level. This is very important from a symbolic point of view; it tells everyone that we are committed to the fight against antisemitism, and that we must act. Our approach does not consist of ambitious plans whose implementation ultimately proves questionable. I’d rather each ministry commit to three small points, like training seminars, than to something big and nebulous that leads nowhere.”

“When we talk about antisemitism in Greek society, it’s important to distinguish between institutional and social dimensions,” notes Professor Antoniou. “We have policies for combating antisemitism, which we will update and improve through the relevant institutional bodies. The institutional framework for combating antisemitism may be a little hazy at the moment, but we can’t say that our country is lagging behind other European countries, or that it contains any obviously problematic provisions. We also note that institutions have adopted the arsenal for combating antisemitism, such as the IHRA’s working definition. As a country that participates in numerous international and supranational organizations, and as an ally of the State of Israel, we have to be consistent on the external stage, which is now the case.

However, when we move on to the societal level, we find that public opinion is far removed from this institutional arsenal. The lack of correction in public discourse, the tolerance and frequent rewarding of public figures who have made antisemitic statements (with their participation in government or municipal positions), the conflict in the Middle East and the culture of victimization all contribute to a consistently high level of antisemitism in Greek society. Recognition of this societal fact is difficult to obtain from the relevant authorities and institutions; there is still a culture of avoidance in the face of the scale of the problem, which needs to change. Greek society, and all its stakeholders, need to hear the truth about what constitutes antisemitism and what does not. Former mayor Ioannis Boutaris has been exemplary in his public contribution to this discussion”.

Wall inscription, Thessaloniki, 2023

More work to be done

For David Saltiel, two major changes he systematically worked on were the introduction of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Greece’s participation in the IHRA. “These are the first steps; without them, we would have gone nowhere. I’ve always said that we have to start with the institutional framework, with the law. We have a new anti-racism law, and that’s crucial. Now, whether we’re ready to use it or not is another question. The law exists. Today, we’re at a very high level of cooperation with the state and ministers. Can you tell people not to use stereotypes, not to insult Jews, not to denigrate them? No. But every time there is an antisemitism statement, we, as the Central Council of Jewish Communities of Greece, respond to what has been said.”

Ambassador Aliferi believes that things are changing: “through education, education, education and vigilance. The symbolic motto ‘Never again’, and for no one, should guide our efforts. We must continue to set positive public examples, such as the active presence of the Head of State, the government and other civil servants, teachers and educators at ceremonies commemorating what happened 80 years ago. All the more so as there are fewer and fewer survivors and eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. We have a duty to pass on this memory to the younger generations. By honoring and reviving the memory of lost Jewish communities, as happened on the occasion of the 80th anniversary in many towns in northern Greece. Through other public examples, such as the important “Mayors against antisemitism” conference held in Athens in November 2022, where the mayors of Athens, Thessaloniki, New York and many other cities around the world united their voices in a final declaration that, among other things, supported the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Using the internet and social networks to highlight good news and positive ideas. This is an area where we still have a lot to do. After all, the fight against antisemitism doesn’t just concern Jews. It concerns ALL of us. Education, memory and vigilance are also a means of self-defense for democracies against any resurgence of forces seeking to undermine core human and moral values and, ultimately, our freedom.”

“We have work to do: even if Greek antisemitism does not manifest itself disproportionately, it is pervasive. It exists with its own characteristics, which must not make us complacent. The fact that we don’t have any acts of violence doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem. We have one, and to prevent it from getting worse, we have to act,” stresses Kalantzis.

Leon Saltiel is one of the researchers who took part in one of the first studies on antisemitism in Greece. He believes that antisemitism in Greece has declined in recent years. “I’m not saying it’s low; I think it’s decreasing because I see empathy, a willingness to acquire knowledge: more and more people are communicating with me and looking into the subject. I see it in the sales of books on the Holocaust, new publications, people taking part in conferences and school events. There are people involved in this subject. So I think there’s a greater awareness than in the past. I have the feeling that the presence of Jews in Greece is now very visible in the media and in social and political life. This demystifies past perceptions”.

“The mentality is changing thanks to what we are doing, such as the events organized on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s changing because of the strategic alliance with Israel. We may take a few steps backwards when conflicts arise, but the world is changing. We see Jewish tourists wearing yarmulkes and nothing happens,” says David Saltiel. This year, following a request he made to the Ministry of Education, the Thessaloniki Jewish School took part, for the first time in its history, in a parade with other schools to mark the anniversary of the Greek Revolution of 1821. “In the past, our children didn’t want to say they were Jewish, and now they marched waving the Greek flag. We don’t have a closed, fearful approach; our school is open to non-Jews. Who could be better ambassadors for debunking myths and stereotypes than the non-Jews who attend the Jewish school? These children are now classmates and friends. This is how mentalities change, how the psychology of Jews and non-Jews evolves,” he adds.

Sofia Christoforidou

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 micro-history 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.



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