Greece's Jews take on neo-Nazi party


Golden Dawn's anti-Semitism stance is worrisome, analysts and officials say.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 24/05/13


Hundreds of Jews march in Thessaloniki on March 16th to the railway station where the first train left for the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. Amid worry about the rise of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, Jewish leaders from around the world have arrived in Thessaloniki to commemorate the event. [AFP]

With Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party accused by critics of being behind the increasing assaults on immigrants as it rises in popularity, Jewish community leaders are worried about what they said are the extremists' anti-Semitic positions.

The calls come as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is struggling to find a way to deal with the Golden Dawn phenomenon.

The party, which got 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009, gained 18 seats in parliament last year with almost 7 percent of the vote, and has nearly doubled that in some recent polls.

Its rise has vexed critics in a country famed for its unrelenting resistance to the Nazis in World War II and where most of the Jewish population was exterminated.

Samaras, whose coalition government has been split over an anti-racism bill, vowed a crackdown on the group in a speech in March marking the 70th anniversary of the first deportations of Thessaloniki's Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The Greek government will enact legislation that will be "completely intolerant to violence and racism," Samaras said, noting that with neo-Nazi parties on the rise again in Europe, governments have to "be very careful not to let them gain ground as they did in the 1930s."

But the bill stalled amid worries it could backfire and give Golden Dawn more support. The EU's human rights chief said there is enough evidence for the party to be outlawed.

"This party is very dangerous for Greek democracy … they made themselves very attractive to Greeks suffering from a deep economic crisis and attract the unemployed," Victor Eliezer, a member of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told SETimes.

"The political conflicts between the parties are now stronger and they see it as more important than a common position toward anti-Semitism and xenopohobia in Greece," he said.

The board complained to the head of a Greek TV station that held interviews with four Golden Dawn MPs, expressing "great indignation at the broadcasting, promotion and dissemination of the extremely racist sentiments displayed by Holocaust denialists and proponents of Nazism in Greece."

The party members wear shirts bearing an ancient Greek meander that resembles a Swastika. Leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the Holocaust was fiction and has directed tirades at immigrants, Jews, bankers and capitalists, along with opposition to austerity measures being imposed by the government on orders of the EU-IMF-ECB Troika in return for bailouts. He denied the party is Nazi-influenced.

Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Greece, said the government faces a dilemma on how to handle Golden Dawn despite what he said is its extremism.

"Their anti-Semitism is the basis of all their other ideas and how they built their anti-immigrant policies. They are neo-Nazis," he told SETimes.

Golden Dawn officials did not respond to requests for comment.

"The problem is that no matter what the government does it looks like Golden Dawn is getting more and more support because of the financial crisis," Klapsis said. "They have managed to convince thousands of people they have all the answers for the problem but they don't have any answers for any problems."

Ilias Panagiotaros, a Golden Dawn MP, told Australian television SBS that the party is modeling itself after the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon that is backed by Syria and Iran, which wants Israel wiped off the map.

"Golden Dawn wants to become, and will become, like Hezbollah in Lebanon," he said.

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Golden Dawn has gained support with free food giveaways but requires citizens show IDs to prove they are Greek.

Alex Sakellariou, a researcher and sociologist at Panteion University in Athens, said there's reason for worry.

"Anti-Semitism, either covered or open, is becoming step-by-step a common and acceptable ideology that finds its expression mainly through Golden Dawn. Any kind of reaction and public condemnation of Golden Dawn and its anti-Semitism is useful because this is one of their main and ideological elements that we should not forget."

Do you think the Golden Dawn party should or should not be outlawed? Make a comment in the space below.

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