Greece Trying to Combat Reputation for Anti-Semitism

THESSALONIKI – With particular prejudice coming from Greek Orthodox faithful, Greece is trying to overcome anti-Semitism reported at 69 percent – the highest in the European Union.

Greek scientists from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki and the University of Oxford have found the results of reports from the Anti-Defamation league are accurate, according to a study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation presented in Berlin, the news magazine Deutsche Welle reported.

Greeks particularly believe in conspiracy theories and that Jews rule the world, it was said. “Anti-Semitism is popular in the country,” said Leon Saltiel, one of the four authors of the study. “It often happens that you’ve barely got into a taxi before the driver starts ranting about Jews.” What is especially interesting about this is that there are only around 5,000 Jews in the whole of Greece: They make up just 0.05 percent of the population.

Even with Greece’s government reaching out to improve relations with Israel, the sense Greeks are virulently anti-Semitic is proving hard to break.

“Criticism of the Jewish state in Greece is sometimes extreme,” Leon Saltiel told DW.“As soon as a crisis breaks out in the Middle East, the Israelis are depicted in the media as Nazis, which does more than just relativize the Holocaust and minimize its significance. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. But when Jews are equated with Nazis, that is anti-Semitism.”

But the research found that Greece is trying hard to overcome its reputation and reduce anti-Jewish sentiment with governments denouncing anti-Semitism and allowing teaching of the Holocaust in schools.

A big obstacle is support for the extreme-right Golden Dawn party accused of having Nazi beliefs and holding third place in the country among political parties surveyed.

“It became apparent that the Greek Nazis were justifying their attacks on democracy with anti-Semitic claims, for example that Greece was being governed by Jews,” said Saltiel.

Before moving toward better dealings with Israel, Greece was known to be more sympathetic to Arabic and Muslim countries, even though polls have found Greeks harbor keen discrimination toward Muslims as well.