Behind the Headlines: Greek Jews Facing New Anti-semitism

Greek Jews are experiencing a new wave of anti-Semitism, which they ascribe to their government’s openly hostile attitude toward Israel and media distortions of events in the Israeli-administered territories that go unchallenged.

The situation has been escalating over the past five months, coincidental with the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So far it has been confined to minor vandalism and anti-Semitic graffiti. Most recently, a monument dedicated to Jewish martyrs of the Nazi occupation in the town of Larisa, in central Greece, was daubed with red paint.

This occurred sometime during the night of March 15-16, four days before Larisa was to officially mark the 45th anniversary of the Nazi extermination of its Jewish population. A similar commemoration was held in Athens.

Earlier in Larisa, the Star of David on the gate of the local synagogue was bent twice in the course of three weeks. Three times the words “Jews, killers of nations, your turn will also come,” have been scrawled on the synagogue walls. Each time congregants washed them off.

In Athens, unknown arsonists burned down a store selling men’s trousers. An anonymous telephone caller said the store was torched because it was Jewish-owned. The owner’s name is Naum, but he is not Jewish.

Threatening telephone calls have been made in recent months to Jewish schools and community centers. Individual Jews have received hate mail.

Jews here are not surprised. There were similar occurrences in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon and was denounced for it by the Greek government.

The government now is the same as it was six years ago — headed by the Socialist Party of Premier Andreas Papandreou.

SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS

Greece and Israel have only the lowest level diplomatic relations. Though they seemed this year to be moving slowly toward closer ties, the government unabashedly supports the Palestinian cause.

Thus at the time of Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat’s visit to Athens in January, Papandreou referred to Israelis as fascists. The premier’s American-born wife, Margaret, charged at a news conference here that Jewish organizations in Europe and the United States are aligned with the “imperialist” camp.

Both channels of Greek television are government-controlled. They have carried stories of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. Some are patently untrue, such as the allegation that handcuffed Palestinians were thrown from Israeli army helicopters.

Jewish community members have warned that such reports can inflame anti-Semitism. But there has been no slackening of attacks on Israel. Some 30 retired high-ranking Greek army officers have publicly volunteered their expertise to the PLO. This is something Greeks have never done for their comrades in Cyprus when confronted by the Turkish invasion.

One Jewish community member said the government is aware it is fueling anti-Semitism, but has refused to do anything about it.

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