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,
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'
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
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.