AIM: start

SAT, 17 MAR 2001 18:22:04 GMT

Debate On Anti-Semitism in Greece

AIM Athens, March 17, 2001

Hannah Goldberg's article, "On Anti-Semitism in Greece," (AIM Athens, 7/12/2000: was posted by a subscriber on the (North America-based and scholarly) Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) listserve on 7 December 2000. The text describes both the latent and blatant manifestations of anti-Semitism that are the status quo for a broad spectrum of contemporary Greek society, as seen in common attitudes as well as in governmental, Church, educational, and media practices. Below is a summary of the large number of listserve comments on, or triggered by, the article, which indeed further highlight the arguments made in the article. They are followed by the author's rebuttal. The complete file with these comments is available at:

Summary of Responses

Samuel Hassid, a Greek Jew, acknowledges "that there are problems in Greece" - but believes that the author (and Panayote Dimitras and AIM) is "using them to promote a foreign agenda." He maintains that "The Jewish population… paid an unusually high price during the Holocaust …exactly because they were on the allied side." Moreover, he emphasizes that Archbishop Christodoulos has, in fact, participated in Holocaust commemorations and "has even visited the Jewish Museum." "The bottom line," he states, is that because he believes that the author lives in France, which has a worse anti-Semitic track record than Greece, it is "pathetic" for her to criticize Greece.

Slavko Mangovski, who posted the initial article, defines that AIM is the Alternative Information Network, which publishes commentary and criticism on the Balkan region. He sees Mr. Hassid's accusation of its "promoting a foreign agenda" as "a bit paranoic" [sic].

George Baloglou's "views …are largely, if not totally, represented by what Prof. Hassid has already posted."

George Savidis clarifies that Panayote Dimitras of Greek Helsinki Monitor heads the Athens Bureau of AIM/AIM Press, and that, while possibly guilty (along with AIM in general) of some excesses, "is one of the few stalwart critics of Greek policies and prejudices on human rights. As such he has earned more enmity than anyone in Athens." Mr. Savidis states that Greece has almost always been a leader in the region in the respect for human rights, but that social and political prejudices do exist and must be addressed. In the context of the argument on the religious designation on Greek ID cards, he turns to Mr. Hassid's reference to France's bad record and posts the entire Institute for Religion and Public Policy's critique of France's new "anti-religious freedom" bill. This, he believes, should "help explain to an American audience that this is a European reaction and not just a Greek, or Orthodox reaction."

Aristide Caratzas agrees with Mr. Savidis that French anti-Semitism is worse than Greece's. He questions the "judgment…[and] motives …[and] agendas" of Mr. Dimitras for his actions against the (nationalist) "Diktyo 21" organization, whose member A.C. is.

Peter Allen debates George Savidis' remark that it is better to be a Turk in Thrace than a Turk in Turkey, in order "to make the point that just because people may be worse off elsewhere does not make abuses acceptable."

Both Kiriakos Kasantsidis and June Samaras agree that Greeks are poorly educated about the Jewish roots of Christianity or any aspect of Greek Jewry, past or present.

Susanna Hoffman, who has "lived and worked in Greece for over thirty years," has "found anti-Semitism everywhere continuous and rampant."

Peter Haritatos quotes selectively the titles of just more than a dozen AIM articles, published out of the Athens Bureau, to point out Mr. Dimitras' "compulsive obsession."

Mr. Caratzas maintains that Greeks are, indeed, critical of the Orthodox Church. In response, Ms Samaras cites the absence of substantive public scrutiny of the theological and political positions of Archbishop Christodoulos and some other Bishops. She questions the reasons for their stand on ID cards and the brouhaha created around the concept that the removing of the "religion" designation means that Orthodoxy is threatened from some imaginary conspiracy in Europe. She counters Mr. Caratzas' claim that Christian practices and social coherence are responsible for Greece's lower rate of racial violence than that of "more pluralistic societies." "Christianity' and the Churches have not been a source for social cohesion, nor even felt the need to commit to that idea of 'peace and goodwill to all men,'" she states.

Several contributors point to Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights and/or debate the term "Semite."

Prof. Yitzchak Kerem remarks that the attacking of Diaspora Jewry when there is world criticism of Israeli behavior is illogical and shows underlying patterns of anti-Semitism, which have deep roots in Christianity. He believes that most of this news-group debate on anti-Semitism is "loaded with generalizations, stereotypes, and a great unfamiliarity with the subject," some of which he clarifies. He also cites historical and current evidence that "Greece and the Greek/Greek-Orthodox people also have many positive [past and present] connections to the Jewish people."

Finally, June Samaras contributes a joke about a Rabbi and an Orthodox Priest, which spurs a discussion over the merits and demerits of ethnic humor.

Hannah Goldberg replies:

First, since there seems to be some doubt about my credentials, I would like to clarify that I do, indeed, live and work in Greece. I am an independent art critic and exhibition curator, and the only "foreign agenda" I have ever been accused (and am undoubtedly guilty) of promoting concerns contemporary visual arts. My enterprise is seen by many (but not all) as a positive contribution to contemporary Greek culture.

My text was a very selective sampling of the pervading blatant and subtle anti-Semitism that I have been a constant and direct witness to in this country since I first came, as a student, more years ago than I care to admit. The listserve comments on what I wrote overwhelmingly (and unfortunately) validate the very points I was trying to make. A number of them, moreover, prove what I have long observed in my professional capacity: that Greeks misunderstand and are resistant to criticism, especially when it is perceived to come from an "outside" source. That - and the fact that the process of real seeing requires long, hard looking.

The responses opened with what first appeared to me to be a fervent denial of the existence of anti-Semitism in Greece, from a Greek Jew, living and working in Israel. But, after a more careful reading (a courtesy the author obviously did not extend to me), I realized that Prof. Hassid was attacking me, personally. Since he does not know me from the Greek-Jewish community, he jumped to the conclusion that I lived in France (?!). Thus I was automatically "suspect," and hence must be involved in some "conspiracy" of AIM, Mr. Mangovski, Mr. Dimitras (the "ringleader" of the gang!) and who knows who else, to effect who knows what. These remarks spurred a lengthy and utterly irrelevant dialogue on the person and politics of Mr. Dimitras, which deflected from the issue at hand and even implied that he might have ghostwritten my text itself! This is an insult to my intellectual and moral integrity. Moreover, any undermining of any voice raised against racism trivializes, diminishes and, in the end, effectively sustains racism itself.

The first pertinent point that almost everybody seemed to agree on, or at least mentioned, is that things aren't so great in Greece, but that they are worse elsewhere, especially in France and other "pluralistic societies." This reaction supports my statement that: "When called to task for anti-Semitic sentiment, Greeks always point to the more organized and violent manifestations in Western Europe and the United States." The fact is, things are not worse elsewhere - they are simply noisier - because anti-Semitic episodes are routinely exposed and denounced in the media and publicly condemned by the states involved. Official Jewish community policy in Greece is notoriously reticent to issue statements critical of the state or the Church. However, Greece's contribution to the World Jewish Congress Report (September/October 2000, pp. 29-30) cites that "a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in Athens [culminated] in the defacement of the city's major Jewish cemetery. Vandals drew Nazi symbols on close to 100 graves and on a Shoah monument [there]. In recent weeks, Athens' synagogue and a Shoah memorial in Salonica were similarly vandalized. The Head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece, Moses Constantinis, stated his regret that 'the Greek government did not react to the other vandalism,' and called on the state to take a firm public stand in defiance of anti-Semitism." The report goes on to say, "members of the Jewish community have become the unwitting victims of a campaign against reforming the national identity card." It points out that the Orthodox Church vehemently opposes the removal of the "religion" category from the card, while some newspapers speak of a "Jewish plot" behind the plan, and that Jewish properties have also been vandalized.

Many of the responses also included the inevitable implication of (all) Jews in Israeli actions, the argument being that Israeli racism cancels out (or even justifies) anti-Semitism anywhere else in the world. As I state in my text, and Prof. Kerem eloquently validates, this highlights the particular nature, intrinsic acceptance and, often, official tolerance of anti-Semitism, in general - as opposed to other forms of racism. People of African descent, for example, whatever else they may suffer, are never blamed for the horrifying atrocities committed in Africa. Similarly, there can be no absolution of guilt in the fact that any anti-Semitic attitudes promulgated in Greece may have originated in Western (Catholic) Europe. So did pizza, but Greece has made it its own - and even exported the art!

Finally, a comment on June Samaras' Priest-Rabbi joke. People should really lighten up. The joke was neither particularly offensive nor particularly funny. More than anything it demonstrates what professional comedians have known for years: that a joke's success lies in the delivery - something pretty hard to effect on the Internet.

P.S. With Pessach approaching, I wonder how many Orthodox Christians are aware of the fact that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder.

Hannah Goldberg