As Olympics Near, Greek Journalist Accuses Jews of Muzzling Free Speech
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As Olympics Near, Greek Journalist Accuses Jews of Muzzling Free Speech

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A prominent Greek journalist has accused Greek Jews of being puppets of the Israeli government and of censoring criticism of what he calls “fascist” Israeli policies.

Kostas Betinakis, a former foreign editor of the Ta Nea newspaper, Greece’s largest, made his comments on his news Web site.

The incident raises the issue of anti-Semitism in Greece at a time when a leading Jewish group has reiterated its call for a travel boycott of the country just months before Athens hosts the 2004 Olympics.

Betinakis, known for his anti-Israel views, criticized the country’s Jews after the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities wrote to the Greek Journalists Union about a series of editorial cartoons following Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in March.

The cartoons included depictions of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Nazi garb and images of Sharon as a butcher cutting up bloody human limbs with a hatchet.

One cartoon portrayed a conversation about the Yassin assassination between two Greek villagers in which one asks the other: “Why did Sharon kill a religious leader?”

The other answers, “They were practicing for Easter,” repeating the charge that Jews kill people to make matzah for Passover.

The letter was intended to be private, but Betinakis — who had access to it as a member of the Journalists Union’s board of directors — called it an official protest and publicized it.

On April 16, the president of the Central Board, Moses Konstantinis, met with Manolis Mathioudakis, the Journalists Union president, to discuss the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Greek media

Following the meeting, Konstantinis sent Mathioudakis the letter that included the controversial cartoons. The letter said that Greek Jews “recognize the steady policy of the Journalists Union to distance itself from racist principles,” and wanted to bring the cartoons to the union’s attention.

Several leading Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League, have sent several protest letters to the Greek government over anti-Semitic expression in the Greek media.

The Wiesenthal Center also wrote to the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, asking that the IOC press Greece on anti-Semitism. The letter comes just two and a half months before the summer games.

Unless Greece takes action against anti-Semitism and racism, the Central Board of Greek Jewish Communities will keep in place its call for a travel boycott against Greece.

Betinakis’ anti-Israel beliefs are not new. As foreign editor of Ta Nea, Greece’s largest newspaper, he has been known to omit news items about Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel.

His Web site also has a 2001 article he wrote about Israel in which he states that the “armored policemen of the U.S. in the Middle East remind one of a caricature of a Jewish small-time merchant breaking his promises and contracts.”

Betinakis’ site fails to mention that Ta Nea apologized to the Greek Jewish community after it protested Betinakis’ characterization of Jews.

When asked to comment on the incident, Konstantinis expressed disgust for Betinakis. For his part, Betinakis reiterated his belief that protesting the cartoons is an attempt to suppress freedom of speech.

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