PRAGUE (JTA) – A strong showing by an extreme right-wing party in Greece’s national elections is prompting some concern among the country’s Jews.
The nationalist party, Popular Orthodox Alarm, or LAOS, won 10 of the 300 seats in Parliament in Sunday’s election. LAOS, whose leaders frequently have made anti-Semitic statements, will be the first extreme-right party in Parliament since the collapse of the Greek military dictatorship in 1974.
Moses Constantines, president of Greece’s Central Board of Jewish Communities, told JTA the party’s electoral success was not a threat to Greek Jews.
“But,” he added, “it is a phenomenon that we must think about.”
Most observers attributed the LAOS gains to widespread public anger at the ruling party, the conservative New Democrats, for the government’s failure to contain massive fires that recently swept through the country and killed 67 people.
The New Democrats retained their leading position in the government, albeit narrowly.
Several weeks before the elections, LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis toned down his party’s xenophobic rhetoric and signed a pledge against racism. But Constantines says the party’s weekly magazine has insulted Jews and Judaism and supports Holocaust denial.
“The change in attitude was only temporary,” Constantines said. “Now we need to watch what the Parliament does before we make any kind of complaint.”
Four of the 10 new Parliament members from the far-right party have made anti-Semitic remarks in the past, Constantines said.
David Saltiel, head of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, said the party’s ascendancy concerns him.
“We are in long-term negotiations with the government to get back the Jewish cemetery in Thesslaoniki,” Saltiel said. “I hope LAOS will not create problems.”
A 2005 report on global anti-Semitism by the U.S. State Department characterized LAOS as a “small, extreme right-wing party (that) supports virulent nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”
The report said party chief Karatzaferis “regularly attributes negative events involving Greece to international Jewish plots. He used the party-owned television station to denounce politicians with Jewish origins and to claim that Jews were behind the Sept. 11 attacks.”
The party is known for its anti-immigration stance and promotion of a pro-Greek, anti-Turkish historical narrative. Greece and Turkey long have been at odds.
Among other things, LAOS is expected to try to thwart Macedonia’s acceptance into NATO until Macedonia – a former Greek republic – changes its name. Greece has been a NATO member since 1952.
Thilippos Savvides, an analyst for the Institute of Strategic and Development Studies in Athens, said LAOS is not monolithic, and its members include nationalists who are not anti-Semitic but are interested in preserving the hegemony of Greek Orthodox Christianity.
The party is not a threat to Greek democracy, Savvides said, but is likely to have some influence over government policy.
“It is true that they will try to influence the government, which will only have a two-seat majority in the Parliament,” he said.
Saltiel said he was confident that Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis would stand firm when it came to supporting the country’s Jewish population.
Karamanlis “is a good friend of the Jews and would stand up to LAOS,” Saltiel said. “Already he stated after the election he would not collaborate with such an extreme party.”