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Tsipras Wins, what can Jews in Greece and abroad expect?

article by Abravanel

The results of the greek elections are in and it appears that the left party of Syriza has won. The following wants to serve as article which tries to reconcile  how the new government is both better and worse than the previous conservative government of Samaras which had included prominent antisemites and how a leftist anti-racist government can take as junior partners the far-right antisemitic party of Anexartiti Ellines (ANEL).

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Who is Syriza and Alexis Tsipras? They are the unlikely result of 5 years of unprecedented austerity which has led to Greece shedding 25% of its GDP, achieving a 35% of unemployment, suffering immense social hardships and a huge brain drain of its youngest and brightest. An austerity originating from decades of misgovernance, black economy & squandering but also horribly managed by a European Union motivated by the wellbeing of private banks and german petty election politics. A small party collocated in the area between euro-communism and a leftist socialdemocracy which struggled to achieve the election threshold, has emerged as the only hope against a decline deemed as a failure of traditional parties which ruled Greece for the past 40 years, (mainly the socialists of PASOK which is with one foot in the grave).

This sudden enlargement should be kept in mind when discussing about Tsipras and Syriza; we still do not know how it will evolve and how a by-definition non-governance political party of 4% will act under the burden of responsibility. But we do know the core leadership and we can make educated guesses based on how they have handled the absorption of new political cadres who belonged to other parties beforehand.

Syriza – and his predecessor Synaspismos – were consistently the least antisemitic political party in Greece. This dubious praise makes sense if one takes into account that Greece is the most antisemitic country in Europe, if not in the whole non-muslim world. Although after WW2 antisemitism never took the violent forms that plagued other countries like France, hate speech is rampant, omnipresent and totally unopposed. While seldomly having faced physical violence, Jews are forced into complete invisibility to avoid harassment and psychologically coerced into denying that what they experience is antisemitism. Still Syriza was the only party which consistently issued declarations against the periodical vandalisms of Jewish buildings, albeit weak ones. It also consistently gave homage to the Shoah and publicly opposed neo-nazis. Plus it always advocated the separation between State and the Orthodox Church which plays a major role in maintaining religious antisemitism. On the other hand Syriza heavily invested in a virulent anti-Israel retoric which in Greece regularly employs antisemitic tropes and often reverses into straightforward antisemitism against Greek who happen to profess the Jewish faith.

Syriza under Alexis Tsipras has maintained this orientation, although he has softened considerably his anti-Church rhetoric and his progressive stance on civil rights issues such as gay issues. Whether it is a ploy to attract conservative voters is to be seen but it should be noted that these openings did not include Israel; and if you’re wondering why I mention Israel, it is because as I mentioned earlier anti-Israel sentiment directly reverses on Greek Jews whether they like it or not. Although Tsipras nominally supports the two-states solution, he strongly advocates a return to traditional pro-Palestinian greek foreign policy and opposes the Greece-Israel rapprochement of recent years despite paying lip service to keeping open channels with everyone.

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So what can Greek Jews expect? On the bright side they can expect a marked improvement on the inclusion of the Shoah in the national historiography; I would even expect it becoming a major pillar in the effort to drive the neonazi party of Golden Dawn off schools. I also expect a stronger police and government response against the regular acts of violence against jewish institutions, (throwing of molotov cocktails, antisemitic graffiti, synagogue arsons). Plus the neonazis would face serious political threat, unlike the half-hearted effort of Samaras who sends of one man to jail them and sends another to negotiate with them.

Unfortunately Tsipra’s/Syriza’s radicalism stops right about there. While wholeheartedly sympathetic to dead Jews, he is not particularly interested in the ones alive. In an interview given to me back in 2008 Tsipras denied any measure to financially help the Jewish communities to the extent the Greek States aids the Orthodox Church. At that time his reasoning was that aid to religious organizations should cease altogether; given his recent pro-Church declarations it is highly unlikely happen so non-equal treatment probably is going to continue. A tangible example is how Syriza’s elder statesman Manolis Glezos handles WW2 reparations: while demanding the restitution of a forced greek loan to Nazi Germany and additional reparations, Glezos has specifically excluded any application of his justice in his own home. This being of course because it would involve the question of Thessaloniki where Greek Christians collaborated and plundered on a scale resembling the sack of Rome.

Still these are petty concerns that Greek Jews have learned to live by. More concerning is the virulent antisemitism of many of his senior parliamentarians and local cadres disguised under the veil of antizionism. Being Greece of course this veil is pretty thin and it should not be confused with legitimate antizionism which although deplorable is a real political stance. In Greece antizionism regularly employs antisemitic tropes such as blood libel (israelis stealing organs of the palestinians), world domination (the US is the puppet of Israel), Christ-Killer (israelis kill sheiks of Hamas) and equating Jewish Israelis to Nazis. And as I said with antisemitism being present in levels unthinkable for any western society, this always reverses on Greek Jews. This means that, as in recent past, leftists will hold anti-Jewish demonstrations like the ones in Thessaloniki which trapped Jews in their communal offices or regularly vandalize Shoah memorials at times of heightened tension in the Middle East. Indicative is a post I wrote in 2009 about antisemitism during the ’09 Cast Lead Operation; Greek Jews were forced to cancel events, suffer vandalisms and close synagogues while leftists and nazis ran rampant in anti-Israel demonstrations.

Even worse it has just been announced that Tsipras will form a coalition government with the far-right party Anexartiti Ellines (ANEL).  The ANEL leader Panos Kamenos is a known fan of conspiracy theories and recently declared «Greek Jews do not pay taxes» causing a furious response by the Central Board of Jewish Communities. And even if the opposition to austerity would warrant a bit of nose-tapping, it can hardly explain the organic absorption of virulent antisemites like ex-ANEL parliamentarian Rahil Makri which opposes even Shoah remembrance and got elected under Syriza. Although the recent alliance should be attributed to electoral needs, it also serves as sign of Tsipras kowtowing to Greece’s worst antisemitic populistic self. 

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So to wrap things up :

A Tsipras government is a good thing if you’re a dead Jew: your memory is cherished and you will probably enjoy more respect and greater recognition. If you’re an alive Jew things will probably will stay the same: even if Tsipras probably personally likes you, he is not to calm the antisemitic sea amidst the one you’re sailing in; I doubt whether this would be possible even if he wanted to. Perhaps he’ll ease the problems Jewish schools and Jewish museums face by a largely indifferent and sometimes hostile State. Still he will steadfastly deny any real request like restitution of stolen properties, recognition of Christian collaboration in Thessaloniki, financial support of Jewish clergy like the Christian one or support of Jewish schools. Also hate-speech is not going to be affected judging from his alliance with the antisemitic Far-Right and lack of solidarity during the Jewish struggle against Shoah revisionists.

But most importantly, pray. Pray to Adonai Eloenu that things stay calm in the Middle East, because if they’re not Greece under Tsipras is going to be a hotbed of state-sanctioned antisemitism. Although swearing they hate Israel and not Jews, the reality is when Syriza goes marching down the street shouting for zionist murderers the synagogues and Jewish clubs close. The enlargement of his government through the inclusion of the antisemitic ANEL, in the name of anti-austerity politics, serves a testament to the fact that antisemitic credentials are necessary for every political party with credible aspirations to governing Greece.

Seventy-two years have passed since Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and among them my family. 72 years afterwards I have to deal with the fact that around 400.000 greeks are die-hard neonazis and the political force opposing them in the government is indifferent to antisemitism when it does not sport a swastika. Jews in Greece had no need to tighten security after the muslim attacks on Jews and Charlie Hebdo; they already live in incognito and in fortified synagogues. Still it leaves a bitter taste to find out my illusions about an anti-antisemitic Greek Left which I have voted for in the past is just that: illusions. Welcome to Greece.

PS. Yo Israel ? I know that things with Cyprus and Greek-Americans are going extremely well but all good things must come to an end. The Greek (Christian) Left hates your guts: it thinks you’re living in a stolen land, using Palestinians as slaves in an apartheid regime and considers your state is a historical abomination. This is not a fringe minority but a solid majority with the top echelons having invested for decades in antizionist rhetoric with antisemitic undertones. Syriza parliamentarians have already participated in «freedom flotillas» and I expect Greece aligning with Arab states, inserting more anti-Israel bias inside the European Union and generally treating any cultural partnerships as leper-infested.

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