ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — The World Jewish Congress joined the Greek Jewish community in urging the Greek government to implement an anti-racism bill in the face of rising hate crimes.
On Tuesday, two junior members of Greece’s ruling coalition said they would defy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and vote to send the bill immediately to Parliament.
Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party believes that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with racist attacks that have been spawned by the ultranationalist, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
“We call upon the government and the democratic political forces to overcome their differences and shield democracy in our country with appropriate legislation, to ensure the equality of Greek citizens,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece said in a statement.
The measure would impose prison terms and fines for racist attacks and also outlaw the use of Nazi symbols and denying the Holocaust.
In a statement Tuesday, WJC President Ronald Lauder said, “It is very worrying that the mainstream parties in Athens are apparently unable to find a compromise on this important matter. Hate mongers and extremists such as the leaders of Golden Dawn are not only a threat to minorities such as the Jews; they are a threat to democracy as a whole.”
Golden Dawn emerged on the political scene last year, winning 7 percent of the vote, or 18 seats, in the 300-member Greek Parliament. Recent polls have indicated the party, which runs on a fierce anti-immigrant platform, now has about 10 percent of the Greek population’s support.
Jewish and international groups have condemned Golden Dawn as racist and anti-Semitic.
Speaking earlier in the year at a ceremony to commemorate the deportation of Greece’s Jews to the Nazi death camps, Samaras had vowed to take strong action against Golden Dawn, promising to be “completely intolerant to violence and racism.”
Opposition groups have accused Samaras of dropping his support for the bill, saying he was wary of directly confronting Golden Dawn and powerful interest groups on the right.