How Greece is combating widespread anti-Semitism

A new study is investigating the pronounced anti-Semitism in Greece. Prejudice is widespread across the political spectrum, yet attitudes are slowly changing from the bottom up.

In 2014 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the US published the results of a survey that examined attitudes towards Jews around the world. As far as Europe was concerned, the surprising thing about this investigation was that anti-Semitic prejudices, resentments and stereotypes were most prevalent not in countries like Poland, Hungary or Ukraine, but in Greece, where they registered 69 percent.

In Greece itself the seriousness of this survey was called into question. Now, however, Greek scientists from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki and the University of Oxford have reached similar conclusions. The new study was commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was presented in Berlin.

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Several representative surveys of around 1,000 participants looked at three central questions. Around 75 percent of the participants were convinced that the Jews exploited the Holocaust for their own interests. Around 65 percent thought that Israel treated the Palestinians exactly as the Nazis had the Jews. And 71 percent were convinced that Jews "hold power" – either as citizens, as a state or as business people. The participants' sex was not a factor in their views, but age did seem to play a part: The older a person was, the more anti-Semitic the views they expressed. By contrast, the higher their level of education, the lower their degree of anti-Semitism.

Antijüdische Graffiti Antisemitismus in Griechenland

Nationalistic graffiti on the Holocaust Monument in Athens

The Left and anti-Semitism

At the same time, the study shows that anti-Semitism is particularly prevalent among people who have a very strong affiliation with the Greek Orthodox Church. And the more someone is inclined towards conspiracy theories, the more he or she believes that Jews rule the world. This is actually a widespread attitude in Greece.

"Anti-Semitism is popular in the country," said Leon Saltiel, one of the four authors of the study. "It often happens that you've barely got into a taxi before the driver starts ranting about Jews." What is especially interesting about this is that there are only around 5,000 Jews in the whole of Greece: They make up just 0.05 percent of the population.

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Berlin - Vorstellung Studie Antisemitismus in Griechenland | Leon Saltiel

Leon Saltiel is co-author of the study

The researchers also examined anti-Semitic prejudices in terms of political and religious convictions. Anti-Semitism is most prevalent on the political fringes – both right and left. You are least likely to encounter anti-Semitic views in the political center, especially among moderate leftists.

Whereas anti-Semitism is a constituent part of right-wing extremist ideology, the root cause of an anti-Semitic attitude among left-wingers is anti-Zionism, which is determined by their attitude towards Israel.

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"Criticism of the Jewish state in Greece is sometimes extreme," said Leon Saltiel. "As soon as a crisis breaks out in the Middle East, the Israelis are depicted in the media as Nazis, which does more than just relativize the Holocaust and minimize its significance. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. But when Jews are equated with Nazis, that is anti-Semitism."

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Griechenland Die Jüdische Gemeinde Thessaloniki

Memorial plaque for Holocaust victims in Thessaloniki

A noticeable change

However, in their study the researchers also found that anti-Semitism has been combated more firmly in Greece in recent years. The Greek governments have adopted a clear stance against anti-Semitism, and the Greek authorities have been taking firm action against anti-Semitic actions and remarks. The Holocaust is part of the school curriculum, and the number of Greek school classes visiting both Jewish museums in Greece and Auschwitz has risen sharply.

The catalyst for this change in Greece is the rise of the fascist party Golden Dawn, according to Leon Saltiel. He explained that the democratic forces in the country had come to realize that they had to fight its misanthropic ideology. "It became apparent that the Greek Nazis were justifying their attacks on democracy with anti-Semitic claims, for example that Greece was being governed by Jews."

Another important reason why anti-Semitism is less and less present in public opinion and is being combated more strongly has to do with the relationship with Israel. For decades Greece traditionally cultivated close relations with the Arab countries. However, for some years now Athens has increasingly been turning towards Israel. The authors of the study believe that as the relations between the two countries become ever closer, this is being mirrored more and more strongly in public opinion.


Anti-Semitism in 16th-century Prague

One of Germany's most famous silent films, "The Golem: How He Came Into the World," was made in 1920. Paul Wegener directed and played a leading role in the film set in 16th-century Prague. The Jewish ghetto is in danger and the emperor order the Jews to leave the city. Only the mythical Golem can help. It's one of the earliest films to address the persecution of Jews.


Persecution of Jews in 1920s Vienna

Based on a novel by Hugo Bettauer, "The City Without Jews," is an important example of how films have taken on anti-Semitism. The Austrian-made film is set in Vienna in the 1920s and shows how the residents held Jews responsible for all social ills. Critics, however, have lamented the film's use of anti-Semitic cilches.


Fine line between tolerance and clichés

Four years earlier in 1916, the American director DW Griffith had created the monumental historical film,"Intolerance." The story explains historical events over the course of four episodes, taking intolerance to task. Yet in a scene showing the crucifixion of Jesus, Griffith employed Jewish stereotypes. As a result, critics have also accused "Intolerance" of demonstrating anti-Semitic tendencies.


Ben Hur through the decades

"Ben Hur" was first made in 1925, but has been reinvented many time since then. It tells the story of a conflict betweet Jews and Christians at the beginning of the 1st century. Jewish prince Judah Ben Hur lives in Roman-occupied Jerusalem as a contemporary of Jesus Christ. The way the Jewish-Christian relationship is showed in the Ben Hur films remains a topic of discussion today.


A trial and pogrom in 1880s Hungary

Although hardly known today, GW Pabst's "The Trial" (1948) is an astounding early example of how the cinema reacted to the Holocaust. Filmed in Austria just three years after the end of the war, Pabst tells a true story set in 1882 in Hungary. A young girl disappears from her village and Jews are blamed. Tragically, a pogrom follows.


Broaching the truth

"The Trial" remained an exception. After the war, it took the film industry in Europe quite some time to deal with the subject. The French director Alain Resnais was the first to address the Nazi genocide in 1956, in the unsparing 30-minute documentary "Night and Fog."


Bringing the Holocaust to TV

It wasn't until the 1978 television mini-series "Holocaust" was made that the genocide was brought to the broader public. The four-part US production directed by Marvin J. Chomsky tells the story of a Jewish family that gets caught in the cogs of the Nazis' genocidal policies.


Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List'

Fifteen years later, American director Steven Spielberg was able to accomplish on the big screen what "Holocaust" had done for television audiences. "Schindler's List" portrayed the brutal reality of the Nazis' anti-Semitism in Germany, but also in Eastern Europe, spotlighting the unscrupulous SS offcer Amon Göth.


Claude Lanzmann and 'Shoah'

French director Claude Lanzmann harshly criticized Spielberg's drama. "He did not really reflect on the Holocaust and cinema. The Holocaust cannot be portrayed," he said in an interview. Lanzmann himself took up the subjects of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in a completely different way - through long documentaries and essay films such as "Shoah" and "Sobibor."


Humor and the Holocaust

Italian comedian and filmmaker Roberto Bengini took a daring approach in his film on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In 1997, "Life is Beautiful" premiered, telling the fictional story of Jews suffering in a concentration camps. The humor he wove throughout had a liberating effect.


Roman Polanski's 'The Pianist'

An equally moving film by Polish-French director Roman Polanski was released in 2002. In "The Pianist," the fate of Jewish-Polish musician Władysław Szpilman during the war years of 1943-44 was brought to the big screen. The project allowed the director, whose mother and other relatives were deported and murdered by the Nazis, to work through his own family's past.


Anti-Semitism and Jesus the Jew

Films about the life of Jesus Christ often come up in discussions about anti-Semitism in cinema. Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988), for example, has been accused of reinforcing anti-Semitic clichés, particularly in scenes in which Jews are indirectly associated with greed.


Mel Gibson's scandalous 'The Passion of the Christ'

Much more controversial was the film that Australian Mel Gibson released two years later. Both Christians and Jews accused Gibson of explicit anti-Semitism in the film, saying he didn't counter the implications in the New Testament that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus (who himself was Jewish). In public, Gibson likewise used anti-Semitic speech.


Turkish anti-Semitism

Audiences and critics alike decried the anti-Semitism in the Turkish film, "Valley of the Wolves." The action-packed movie version of a TV series of the same name showed a battle between Turkish soldiers and Israel. The film employed "anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic stereotypes and was inciteful," according to several organizations.


WWII still a challenge for filmmakers

Just how difficult it can still be to address the subject matter of World War II is evident in the response to a three-part German TV series from 2013, "Generation War." The series follows a handful of German soldiers fighting on the eastern front. It was criticized in Poland for anti-Semitism and was said to have represented the Polish resistance.


Hannah Arendt and 'the banality of evil'

Margarethe von Trotta's film about Hannah Arendt was well received in 2012. The director sketched a balanced portrait of the philosopher and publicist who, in the 1960s, grappled with a figure who was largely responsible for the Nazi genocide: Adolf Eichmann. Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to explain anti-Semitism clothed in seemingly harmless bureaucracy.


The 'Wonder Woman' controversy

Because the protagonist of the current Hollywood super hero hit "Wonder Woman" is played by Israeli Gal Gadot, the film was not shown in a number of Arab countries. Gadot herself had served in the Israeli army and defended her experience. Not showing "Wonder Woman" is anti-Semitic, according to the public sentiment in Israel.