(JTA) — A Greek official was accused of abusing the memory of the Holocaust by mentioning Gaza during a speech about the genocide and saying that “victims become bullies.”
The criticism by The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a watchdog group, was over a speech that Panagiotis Sgouridis, a deputy minister of rural development, gave on June 7 in the northern city of Kavala during the unveiling ceremony for a monument in memory of the area’s murdered Jews.
Noting that atrocities continue today despite the lessons of the Holocaust, Sgouridis listed as examples “the continuation of the extermination of the Assyrians by the jihadists, the invasion and occupation in northern Cyprus, the Kurdish issue, the blockade of Gaza, the genocidal dismemberment of Yugoslavia,” and the Ukraine crisis.
He concluded his speech by saying that monuments like the one unveiled at Kavala are important “because unfortunately many times the roles switch and the victims become bullies.”
Shimon Samuels, the Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, said that Sgouridis’ speech was “not only an inversion of the Holocaust by listing it alongside the blockade on Gaza, but also served to banalize it.”
The Kavala unveiling was preceded by an international uproar over reports that the city’s mayor objected to the incorporation of a Star of David in its design, though she denied objecting. The monument that was unveiled features the symbol.
Public discourse in Greece about Jews and Israel has become “more toxic,” said the center, amid a financial crisis and the rise of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that became Greece’s third largest following the 2015 legislative election.
Sgouridis’ party, the rightist Independent Greeks, has called on Germany to pay Greece reparations for its invasion and occupation of the Balkan country.
“The speech, the place, the time and the backstory all combine to make Sgouridis’ speech inappropriate,” Samuels said.