Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Playing with fire, again!

By now the events in Crete, where the Jewish synagogue Etz Hayim (Tree of Life) in Hania, was burned twice in the course of three weeks, are well known. After the second fire, which was much more destructive than the first, the local police finally arrested several individuals, apparently spurned into action by the, by now, international condemnation (including that from Greek-American organizations) of these events. What has been completely absent, of course, was any reaction from local political, religious and civic authorities and groups. The people of Hania and their political, cultural and spiritual leaders did not care one bit about the destruction of a historical building that was much more than that: A reminder of a once thriving Jewish community that was destroyed during the German occupation of Crete in WW II. Deafening was also the silence of the national political and cultural figures, but, unfortunately, this was not surprising as they have been silent during other antisemitic outrages, which appear to be happening with increased frequency in Greece these days. Some months ago, the ancient Jewish cemetery in Ioannina was desecrated repeatedly by "persons unknown", without the local police having managed to arrest anyone yet. But at least in Ioannina, unlike Hania, some local people (although, again, without their civic and religious leaders) demonstrated in support of the Ioannina Jewish community. For details of these events and an interesting discussion (mostly in Greek) check out abravanel.wordpress.com.

So the police in Hania have now arrested several people, one Greek, two British citizens and one U.S. citizen. And all of a sudden, the national socialist antisemites are breathing a sigh of relief, since allegations of antisemitism among the Greek public have been proven, in their opinion, unfounded, given the nationality of the alleged perpetrators of the two arson attacks. Of course, the fact that this was a multinational crime provides no excuse for the complete indifference shown by the majority of the population to the arson, especially since when the two arson attacks occurred the identities of the perpetrators were not known. Unless, of course, those who are trying to justify the near universal absence of reaction, actually knew all along that some of the alleged perpetrators of the arson attacks were foreign nationals. Which begs the question: How and when did they have this information?

That foreign nationals were arrested is in itself not particularly significant: Both the United States and Great Britain harbor many individual antisemites, as evidenced by a number of high profile antisemitic incidents in both countries, like the shootout at the Holocaust Museum in Washington in June 2009, which resulted in the murder of a Museum security guard. The difference, of course, is that in these and other countries, such episodes are condemned immediately and vigorously by the political, religious and civic leadership and by the population at large. Even episodes that result in relatively little property damage and put nobody's life in danger, such as the defacement of synagogue exterior walls or of Jewish cemeteries, which do happen in the United States, draw immediate condemnation and generate tangible expressions of solidarity with the local Jewish communities by elected officials, civic groups and religious organizations. It is not an uncommon to see Christian clergymen from various denominations and their folk helping out Jewish congregants with the cleaning of antisemitic graffiti and repair of damages. This is what civilized people do! Antisemitism in a society is defined less by the actions, however vile and violent, of a relatively small number of malignant personalities and much more by the reactions of the population and the political, cultural and spiritual leadership. Has anyone seen or heard any expressions of outrage or just regret by local authorities and Greek Orthodox leaders in Hania, never mind offers for help, especially before this whole affair became an international embarrassment?

However, it gets even worse. Latching on the multinational composition of the band of arsonists, the national socialist blogs are alleging a conspiracy (*), led by Jewish organizations and the secret services of "foreign countries" (read United States and Israel), to defame Greece by setting fire to the Etz Hayim synagogue. I have posted before on the paranoid conspiratorial musings of the Greek antisemites. The latest reaction, blaming if not the victims at least those who, in the eyes of the Greek antisemites, have some kind of connection with the victims, is best explained by the Greek proverb "Φωνάζει ο κλέφτης για να φοβηθεί ο νοικοκύρης!" ("The thief is yelling so the homeowner will be afraid" - It does sound better in the original). Of course, no matter what smokescreens (no pun intended) the antisemites put up to obscure the truth, we all know who are responsible for such acts, in Hania, in Verroia, in Ioannina,. And once again, it is painfully obvious that Greek society has failed to react and to respond in a meaningful way to attacks against Jewish Greek citizens.

(*) This information was found in the Abravanel blog, mentioned above


  1. "The difference, of course, is that in these and other countries, such episodes are condemned immediately and vigorously [...] by the population at large"

    Proof of this difference? What do you mean by "the population at large" (every other person cries out against anti-semitic graffiti in the USA?) and what do you mean by "other countries"? Also, if (as you say) anti-semitic incidents still happen in those "other countries" then perhaps the condemnations coming from "the population at large" aren't as successful and as massive as you are making them out to be, so either one of your points is inaccurate.

  2. As I mentioned, each country has it share of individuals who don't like some of their fellow citizens because of their national origin, or skin pigmentation, or religious background, or any other factor. The difference between our country and other countries (and by that I mean Western countries, like the United States, Canada, Britain, Holland, Denmark, ...) is that in those places, when an incident like the desecration of Jewish monuments or graves or arson of a synagogue occurs, there is condemnation from those who hold high office as well as from those who don't: Presidents and prime ministers and bishops speak out and visit the locations where such incidents occur and less prominent individuals demonstrate, speak publicly to the local TV reporters, write letters to newspapers, sign petitions, etc. None of this happened in Hania. In the end it has to be a three-pronged approach: Education, to sway those who can be convinced by argument; condemnation, to shame those who can be shamed and sow them that they are a minority; and effective law enforcement to scare those who are afraid of getting caught breaking the law. Is this going to stop everyone from carrying out antisemitic attacks? Of course not. The fact that some people steal does not mean that the population at large" condones such behavior. But if we, as a society, don't bother teaching our children not to steal, we do not disapprove, privately and publicly, of those who steal and the police can't seem to be bothered to arrest and prosecute those who steal, then one would be justified in concluding that society does not consider stealing to be a problem. Same with antisemitism.

  3. You said (I don't know personally so I repeat your points) that anti-semitic incidents occur, for example, in the USA as well yet the USA is educated about anti-semitism far more than Greece is.

    So, are anti-semitic incidents more frequent in Greece and is anti-semitism more important in Greece than in the USA or is "education" not that different in the USA, in the end? Which one is true? I keep in mind that the Jewish population of Greece is likely much smaller percentage-wise than the Jewish population of the USA.

    Btw, you need to keep in mind that some concepts aren't universal so "Western countries" (what you mean with "Western countries" anyway) aren't the standard that everyone that might be reading this blog uses (even if you dislike them for it).

  4. Last point first. I am not sure how, from what I have written, you surmise that I dislike anyone whose views regarding the standards of "Western countries" are not the same as mine. Having said this, I make no excuses about enjoying the freedoms that come with living in a "Western" country (which Greece has desperately, since its founding as a modern country, wanted to be), so much so that I am perfectly willing to put up with the many annoyances that come with it, although this doesn't mean that I will refrain from speaking against them (since I am free to do so). And, frankly, I have no responsibility to write in a way so that those who so not share this attitude will feel comfortable reading this blog.

    I do not know whether antisemitic incidents are more frequent in Greece (compared to what country?), but for a small country there sure have been many and highly visible antisemitic incidents during the past year or two, especially, as you say, since the Jewish population here is very small and keeps a low profile.

    Regarding education (and I use the term in its broad sense, not just school instruction), all I am saying is that in other Western countries when antisemitic incidents take place, there is condemnation and expressions of solidarity with the Jews by the political leadership, religious leaders, cultural figures as well as by individuals, not only with words but also, when warranted, with deeds. I recall, some years ago, when I was living in the U.S., that in a small suburban town near Boston Jewish graves were vandalized (eventually the police arrested several high school students who were drunk at the time). The overwhelmingly non-Jewish people of the town, with the aid of the police, began citizens patrols during the night at the cemetery to prevent further incidents. This in addition to condemnations by the local political and religious leaders. People viewed this as an assault and insult to their whole community, not just the Jews. It is this type of response I am talking about and the other types I mentioned above, like church goers going to help Jews clean up antisemitic graffiti, which are completely absent in Greece, as demonstrated time and again. Basically, in those "Western countries" most people view their fellow citizens, regardless of their faith or national origin, as an integral part of society and they are particularly sensitized towards antisemitism, given the history of persecution of the Jews in Western countries (albeit much, much less in the U.S., which is a relatively young country). I think that by demonstrating total indifference towards such incidents indicates either that the members of the community and their leaders believe that what happens to their Jewish compatriots does not concern them (because Jews are a "foreign" entity) or, even worse, that Jews somehow "deserve" what happens to them. And this is a much bigger problem than a few vandals who are often drunk or have a screw loose.

  5. "compared to what country?"

    The USA, as I wrote!

    Anyway, I'll accept your points even if I don't necessarily wholly agree with all of them. Studies on the matter of anti-semitism and its "reception" in various countries would be perhaps useful.

    Αυνανίζεσαι τακτικότερα μετά τα 50?

  7. Προφανώς, εξ ιδίων τα αλλότρια κρίνεις.