Thursday, July 15, 2010

Israel, the Jews and Greece: Tensions rising

Forget Iran. Nevermind Hamas and Hezbollah. Move over Turkey. There's a new anti-Israel force to be reckoned with: Greece.

Yes, along with exporting succulence like souvlaki, spanakopita and Ouzo, Greek radicals/nationalists/communists are also ramping up their export of Israel delegitimization tactics.

While the two countries could never have been said to have been best friends – Greek politics has tended towards close ties with many Arab states and has an underlying leftist/socialist mindset that, these days, precludes warm relations with Israel – its populace has rarely demonstrated openly anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic actions since World War II. Until recently.

In January, the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete was firebombed twice in 11 days. Additionally, over the past two years there have been a number of desecrations at Jewish sites, cemeteries and synagoguein towns and cities across Greece in areas such as Athens, Larissa, Volos, Thessaloniki, and Ioannina. 

Desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Ioannina, Greece 2009.

And let's not forget the Jewish population of Crete was virtually wiped out by the occupying Nazis in WWII. Not that that's Greece's fault totally (although many historians will note that the Greek government at the time was complicit in its aid to the Nazis). Still, it seems the seeds of anti-Semitism have been sown in Greece and are beginning to bear fruit. 

Like many others eager to find a good scapegoat, disenfranchised Greeks, in the aftermath of the Gaza Flotilla incident and Greece's own devastating, internal economic crisis, decided that Israel was the cause of all evil. How?

Two recent events point to an escalation of anti-Israel sentiment in the Hellenic Republic.

On June 6, days after Israeli soldiers captured and diverted the Mavi Marmara and killed nine terrorists aboard that ship, angry Greek citizens stormed an Israeli company in their country. From JTA:
About 50 far-left and anti-establishment activists forced themselves into the offices of the Netafim company last Friday morning, throwing out its employees and declaring the offices occupied.
The activists hung a banner reading "Israel commits murders, solidarity with the Palestinian uprising."
Calling itself Solidarity Initiative, the group left the offices less than three hours later. Nobody was hurt in the protest. The activists said the occupation of the office was a protest against the Israeli Navy's boarding last week of a Turkish ship, part of a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza, during which nine activists were killed and 36 wounded.
According to a written manifesto distributed by the activists, "Israel is a model of state murder that is trying by blunt force to bend the Palestinian resistance."
The protesters also called the United States and the European Union "accomplices with Israel's murderous policies."
Second, just yesterday, Greek protesters swarmed the ticket counters of EL AL in Athens and delayed an outbound flight for Israel by two hours. Again, JTA with the story:
Protesters of Israel's Gaza blockade delayed an Israel-bound flight from Athens International Airport for about two hours.
Members of a Communist-backed labor union told the Associated Press that they blocked five El Al check-in counters during Wednesday's protest, which they said was also because of the "oppressive policies" of Israel.
“This was an action taken in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their effort to establish a Palestinian state," union spokesman Giorgos Pontikos told AP. The protest occurred as a Libyan aid ship carrying aid to Gaza sailed to an Egyptian port to avoid the blockade.
El Al released a statement saying that it "considers flight safety and the safety of its passengers as its foremost values and will not compromise those in any way." The airline stressed that at no point were the passengers in any danger. The flight departed for Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv at 12:30 p.m. with 99 passengers on board.
Now, I know there are far-left and anti-establishment activists in many cities worldwide, but as far as I know, I haven't read stories about them physically targeting Israeli businesses and interests in major city centres. Protesting in front of embassies, yes. But attacking independent businesses? No. It's a disturbing turn.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on January 20, Greek historian Andrew Apostolou – who wrote his doctoral dissertaion at Oxford University on the Holocaust in Greece summarized Greece's continuing flirtation with anti-Semitism as follows:
The fundamental problem with Greek anti-Semitism is not that it is rampant. It is that in a country of 11 million with just 5,000 Jews, few Greeks care to resist it. Greece suffers from a lack of moral, religious and social leadership denouncing the embarrassment of anti-Semitism, be it vandalism or the now banal comparison of Israel with the Nazis in the national media.
The indifference of many Greeks is unsurprising. The official version of the history ensures that few know of the Jewish component of Greece's past. Many Greeks do not know that their second largest city, Salonika, had a Jewish majority for most of its modern history.
Instead of the Holocaust being treated as a moment for moral and historical reflection, it is portrayed as an opportunity for national self-congratulation because of the rescue of a small number of Greek Jews. The genuine heroism of Greek Christians who saved Greek Jews from the Nazis in such places as Zakynthos and Athens is used to obscure the collaboration and indifference that helped condemn tens of thousands of Greek Jews to death in Salonika and northern Greece.
Want to know how bad it can get in Greece? The Nov. 4, 2008 edition of one of its popular national tabloids, Avriani, published this front page in anticipation of then soon-to-be U.S. President Barack Obama's election victory:

Can't read Greek? The headline and sub head reads as follows:

“Everything changes in America which we hope will become more democratic and humane”

Nice, huh? The article goes on to explain how Obama's main rivals for the presidency at the time, the ticket of Sarah Palin and Sen. John McCain, were being funded and puppeteered by "the Jewish Lobby."

Hopefully Greece doesn't slide further down this anti-Semitic slope.

Ironically, in the aftermath of deteriorating Turkish-Israeli relations, pundits are predicting that tourism to Greece might pick up as an alternate destination for Israelis.


Ohara said...

Don't tell me I'm going to have to boycott Kojax now!

Blintzkrieg said...


No one's asking anyone to boycott delicious Greek food or Greek culture. But the government of the country itself and some of its populace, bear watching over the next few years.

And you can happily eat at Cosmos.