Antisemitism in Greece today: Aspects, causes and tackling the phenomenon
Anti-Semitism is one of the most common manifestations of social prejudice in Europe and elsewhere. Greece is not an exception to this rule; in fact, Greece, according to the 2015/2017 Anti-Defamation League Global Survey has the highest proportion of people who harbour anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe. The study at hand was commissioned by Heinrich Boell Stiftung Greece to report the main findings of an original analysis of Greek public opinion that aimed to delve deeper into the causes of the phenomenon. The report was divided into three themes; 1) discussing the socio-political framework of anti-Semitism in modern Greece, 2) the full presentation of the empirical work conducted using public opinion surveys and 3) a set of policy recommendations to tackle the phenomenon. The executive summary at hand will briefly present the main aspects of each of the three themes.
Although the numbers of Greeks of Jewish religion is, according to the Greek Census, very low (5000, i.e. 0.05% of the Greek population) the incidents of anti-Semitic rhetoric and the recorded attacks against Jewish monuments or synagogues are disproportionately high. The report embarks on a thorough analysis of the role that political actors, the Greek Church and the mass media play in perpetuating anti-Semitic prejudice and behaviour. Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party with parliamentary representation, is the most important advocate of anti-Semitic views in contemporary Greece, but there are some disconcerting incidents that vary across all levels of government and across different ideological persuasions. One of the key concerns regarding the relationship between politics and anti-Semitism is that there are many incidents of anti-Jewish rhetoric, and those incidents have the ideological left and right as the perpetrators. In many of those incidents, the role of the Greek Church is pivotal. Stemming from Christian anti-Judaism, it often takes other forms such as anti-Zionism or Jewish Conspiracies. In the report, we lay out some of key examples showing how one of the most respected institutions in Greece is not keen to stop anti-Semitism.
The mass media play a big role as well. The way anti-Semitism is reported or, more often, not reported helps the phenomenon to expand and become an everyday theme that should not carry any consequences for the politician or any other figure harbouring similar views in public. In fairness, this was less of an issue when Golden Dawn started gaining influence in the Greek public sphere. On occasions when Golden Dawn denied the Holocaust, the mass media where keen to attack the party and consider “Holocaust conspiracy” allegations as absurd. As expected, newspapers of extreme-right persuasion were keen to recycle similar conspiracies and embellish them with narratives of “Jewish world domination” and “Jewish economic interests in Greece“. Sadly, some mainstream newspapers also put forward subtle and not so subtle opinions against the Jews (especially when the Arab-Israeli conflict is on the agenda).
But why do politicians, the Church and the mass media do not consider any of the costs associated with anti-Semitic rhetoric?
We argue in this report that anti-Semitism in Greece is so widespread, that public officials and other actors do not face any fear of punishment (either legal or just in terms of condemnation). The empirical analysis from a representative sample of the Greek population shows that more than 6 out of 10 Greeks hold anti-Semitic attitudes.
We use a number of scales to measure different facets of anti-Semitism. In most cases we ask respondents whether they agree with an anti-Semitic statement. We use an “Strongly agree-strongly disagree” 5-point scale showing agreement with the statements, “The Jews exploit the Holocaust for better treatment in the international arena”, “Israel treats Palestinians in the exact same way the Nazis treated the Jews”, “The Jews have a lot of power in international business” and “Jews should not be allowed to buy land in Greece”. The proportion of respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the above statements are around 64%, 65%, 92% and 21%, respectively. When we ask respondents to denote how much they trust Jews using a 0 to 10 scale (10 denoting high trust), we find that more than 37% of the respondents choose 0 and around 60% of the total sample reports a level of trust below 5. Across these measures, we find worryingly high levels of anti-Semitism that largely confirm the numbers reported by ADL.
How do these numbers relate to demographic characteristics? We find very weak associations with gender, but in terms of age, we find that older citizens are more likely to harbour anti-Semitic views. The strength of association varies by the item we use. Similarly, different political ideologies respond somewhat differently to the various measures.
The penetration of anti-Semitism is more prevalent for voters of the extremes, both left and right. Clearly, when we use “Jews exploit the Holocaust” measure, the extreme right is in stronger agreement with the statement, whereas the reverse is observed when use the “Jews treat the Palestinians” item. The extreme right and left heterogeneity is more balanced when we use the more generic” Trust in Jews” item. However, ideology can mean many things to different people. We also considered other items that might describe the worldview of Greeks. We thus investigated whether self-assessments of cosmopolitanism and ethnocentrism predict anti-Semitism and, quite expectedly, it does. Cosmopolitans are less likely to express anti-Semitic attitudes. The same pattern is observed in other sets of attitudes; we find that respondents who have a general tendency to subscribe to conspiracy theories are more likely to express anti-Semitic views.
Clearly, self-perceptions like cosmopolitanism, conspiratorial thinking or responses denoting high interpersonal trust have deeper roots.
We consider education to be one of them and, indeed, there is a strong correlation between educational attainment and anti-Semitism, with those having fewer years in formal education being more likely to have such attitudes. Related we asked about the Holocaust as a historic event and how it should be treated in schools. Almost 27% of our sample would like the Holocaust to be forgotten (“left behind”). When we asked respondents about the first thing that comes to their mind when hearing the term “Holocaust” only 46% chose Auschwitz as an option (the other options represented prominent heroic incidents of Greek national sacrifice like “Arkadi” (9.39%), “Distomo (33.47%), “None of the above” (13.79%)). This is a clear consequence of suffering prioritization, on which Greek tragedies also deserve the “Holocaust” label. This national victimhood, as we show below, is one of the most important factors behind the high levels of anti-Semitism in Greece.
We have devoted a distinct subsection to the link between victimhood and anti-Semitism. We propose a theoretical mechanism that underpins this relationship. We argue that citizens in the early years of socialization adhere to a national narrative that is often based on the victimhood of the Greek nation. When the national in-group compares itself with an out-group that has suffered more (or at least it receives greater recognition in terms of suffering), then the in-group develops envy towards the out-group. Eventually, this turns into stereotyping and prejudice. In line with that theory, our empirical results show that over 70% of the sample agrees that, “Greece has suffered more than the Jews”. There is a very strong correlation between this question and the questions we described above and this relationship is robust even when analysed in comparison with other variables in a multivariate setting, but also in survey experimental results (not discussed in the report).
Our report concludes with a set of policy recommendations that would help ameliorate the phenomenon.
More specifically we argue that there is a strong need to increase the police surveillance around Jewish monuments and there is an even stronger need to prevent such crimes. For this to be successful, we feel that the police forces need to be educated on this topic. Then, and in close collaboration with the Greek Jewish Community and the relevant ministries, we could successfully tackle this phenomenon. Education is also of critical importance in primary and secondary schools. Museums, like the ones in Athens and Thessaloniki, remembrance days and state efforts to educate the Greek population on the History of Jews in Greece would also be a good step forward. As we argue, there are many international organizations that could be of assistance in this endeavour. The same organizations, the state and the European Union can improve aspects of school education in order to educate young pupils with regards to the Jewish community in Greece, their history and how 90% of them died during WWII in death camps. We think, moreover, that a more extrovert understanding of Greek history would allow for more compassion, more critical thinking and less prejudice towards the Jews. In the long run, this will also help the mass media to –unequivocally- condemn anti-Semitic rhetoric and it will widen the scope for public accountability in the Parliament, the Greek Church and the public sphere.