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Greek court orders jail for neo-Nazi leaders

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A Greek court today (22 October) ordered neo-Nazi Golden Dawn chief Nikos Michaloliakos and his former top aides to begin immediately serving prison sentences, capping one of the most significant trials in the country's political history, writes Erika Vallianou.

Following the ruling, warrants are to be issued for the immediate arrest of Michaloliakos and several former party lawmakers, the court said.

Several of those convicted including some lawmakers have already turned themselves in, state television ERT said.

Michaloliakos and other former members of his inner circle were sentenced two weeks ago to more than 13 years in prison for running a criminal organization after a five-year trial.

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Michaloliakos, a long-term Hitler admirer and Holocaust denier, has rejected his party's prosecution as a political witch hunt.

He remained defiant Thursday after the court ordered his imprisonment.

"I'm proud to be taken to jail for my ideas...we will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people," he told reporters outside his home in an affluent northern Athens suburb.

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"I thank the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who stood by Golden Dawn all these years," said the 62-year-old mathematician and former protege of Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos.

Those going to jail include deputy Golden Dawn leader Christos Pappas and the party's former spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, who recently formed a new nationalist party.

But the ruling cannot be immediately enforced in the case of former Golden Dawn lawmaker Ioannis Lagos, who was elected to the European parliament in 2019 and has immunity.

Greek judicial authorities must formally request that Lagos' immunity be lifted by the European parliament before he can be imprisoned.

The court had issued guilty verdicts to Michaloliakos and over 50 other defendants, including his wife, on October 7.

But the conclusion was delayed by a number of legal disputes, including last week when Lagos tried to have the court's three judges recused for bias.

The head judge Maria Lepenioti on Monday also publicly questioned the state prosecutor's demand that most of the convicted be provisionally released pending appeals trials, which could take years to adjudicate.

Modelled on Nazi party

The court has accepted that Golden Dawn was a criminal organization run by Michaloliakos using a military-style hierarchy modelled on Hitler's Nazi party.

The probe was sparked by the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, who was ambushed by Golden Dawn members and fatally stabbed.

Fyssas' murderer, former truck driver Yiorgos Roupakias, has been handed a life sentence.

In a lengthy investigation, pre-trial magistrates outlined how the group formed black-clad militia to intimidate and beat up opponents with knuckle dusters, crowbars and knives.

A search of party members' homes in 2013 uncovered firearms and other weapons, as well as Nazi memorabilia.

Another former Golden Dawn organiser, former death metal bassist Georgios Germenis who is now an assistant for Lagos at the European parliament, on Thursday said his conviction was "absurd" and politically motivated.

"I am 100% innocent. I was just helping people," Germenis said as he turned himself in at his local police station.

For Michaloliakos, the sentence caps a stunning downfall for a man whose party was the country's third most popular in 2015, the year the trial began.

The party won 18 seats in parliament in 2012 after tapping into anti-austerity and anti-migrant anger during Greece's decade-long debt crisis.

It failed to win a single seat in last year's parliamentary election.

Michaloliakos and other former Golden Dawn lawmakers had already spent several months in prison after Fyssas' murder in 2013.

Time served in pre-trial detention will be deducted from the overall sentence.

Under Greek law, they must serve at least two-fifths of their sentence before requesting an early release.

Anti-semitism

Antisemitic prejudices widespread in Greece, survey shows, but Greek MP insists the state has been fighting a lot antisemitism in the last few years

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A comprehensive survey of anti-Semitic prejudices in 16 European countries, which was released last week in the framework of a meeting of Jewish leaders in Brussels, shows that Greece is, along with Poland and Hungary, the country where the population has the most negative feelings towards the Jews and where antisemitic prejudices are widespread, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

According to the survey, commissioned by Action and Protection League (APL), a partner organization of the European Jewish Association, more than a third of Greeks  surveyed believe that “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society”.

The belief in a “secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” is shared by 58% of Greeks. In addition, some 36% of Greeks  have ‘’rather negative feelings” towards Jews.

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The survey globally shows that in  Western European countries, there is more anti-Israel sentiment while in Eastern European countries (including Greece) there is more traditional anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.

“Greece stands out as the country where antisemitic prejudices are the most present although I do not believe that Greece is the least safe country for Jews,” said Rabbi Shlomo Koves, leader of the APL, during a presentation of the survey.

“The worrying results of the survey show that anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in Europe,” said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, President of the EJA, who presented a 10-point action plan to the Jewish leaders at the conference.

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Asked by European Jewish Press to comment the results regarding his country, Konstantinos Karagounis (pictured), a member of the Greek parliament and former minister, stressed that since the 1980s, a period of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the Greek state has made a huge turn which has resulted in making Israel one of its most important allies.

‘’The results of the survey are quite distrurbing but we have been fighting a lot antisemitism in the last few years by making the law more strict which seems to be very effective,’’ he said.

‘’We show zero tolerance for Neo-Nazis and extremists,’’ he added

He noted that the survey shows that the percentage of antisemitic prejudices is very high especially for Greek people that are more aged (more than 50/60 yea old). ‘’This has to do with perceptions. ‘’The optimistic part is that is that for the younger generation the percentage is very low. That makes me optimistic and shows that if we give more education  and if we inform more the population, especially the youths, I think that our fight will be very effective,’’ Karagounis said.

‘’Another good thing is that we have no violent incidents against Jews in Greece but of course we still have a lot of work to do,’’ he added.

He described the ties between his country and Israel (and Cyprus) as ‘’veryu strong’’. ‘’We share the same values,’’ he added.

‘’Now we can speak of a country that has embraced its Jewish heritage, recognized the destruction of its Jewish communities by the Nazis, recognized its inherent faults. Greece is now a country that is actively fighting antisemitism through education, through law-making and of course through public statements,” said Karagounis.

Last Sunday, the European Commission Vice-President, Margaritis Schinas, visited  the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki (Salonika). During his visit, Schinas, who is from the northern Greek city,  reassured Jewish communities of Europe that the European Union will support them in the face of modern threats.

“As Vice President, I want to assure the Jewish communities in Europe that the EU will not leave them unprotected from the many modern threats that are overshadowing their lives today. We will guarantee their safety, we will strengthen their education and culture, we will do everything to preserve the historical memory of the Holocaust, especially now that the last survivors are leaving us without their personal stories,” he said.

His visit to the Jewish Museum of Salonika came a few days after the presentation of the EU’s first strategy on combating antisemitism and preserving Jewish life.

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Anti-semitism

French Jewish leader: ‘While the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating’

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"While the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating," said Joel Mergui (pictured), president of the Central Israelite Consistory of France as he addressed on Tuesday (12 October) a conference in Brussels of Jewish leaders organized by the European Jewish Association (EJA), writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

"It is time to face the facts. Combating anti-Semitism cannot be reduced to isolating and penalizing anti-Semitic acts. This penalty is of course essential. Perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts should not never go unpunished. But for it to be truly effective, the fight against anti-Semitism must get to the root of the problem," he added.

Mergui said that Europe must launch concrete initiatives in the field of education to combat anti-Jewish stereotypes. "It must also value the heritage and the contribution of Judaism and remind ceaselessly that Jewish spirituality is an integral part of European culture."

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His remarks came as a new comprehensive survey of antisemitic prejudices in 16 European countries was unveiled ahead of the conference. The survey results appear to be rather disturbing. The Action and Protection League (AP)– partners of the EJA – commissioned the survey with IPSOS SA, under the leadership of Professor András Kovács of Central European University in Vienna-Budapest, taking in 16 European countries and asking respondents direct questions, and following up where seemed necessary. The countries polled are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Amongst the disturbing figures are: Nearly one third of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Poland said Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society. Nearly one third agreed that there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world. (Romania – 29%; France – 28%; Czech Republic – 23% ). In Spain, 35% said Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians; 29% said the same in the Netherlands; and 26% agreed with the statement in Sweden. In Latvia, just over a third – 34% – said Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes; 23% agreed in Germany; and 22% agreed in Belgium. A quarter of all those surveyed agreed with the statement that Israel’s policies make them understand why some people hate Jews.

“Jews around Europe need to propose specific action-plans to their governments as well as on the EU level,” said Rabbi Shlomo Koves, founder of APL and initiator of the survey. “We need to take our fate into our hands if we want our grandchildren to be able to live in Europe in 20-50 years from now,” he added.

The two-day Brussels conference was attended by dozens of prominent European Jewish leaders, parliamentarians, and diplomats from across the continent, including EU Commission Vice-President Margiritis Schinas, as well as the President of Israel Isaac Herzog and the Minister for Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai who will address the gathering from Jerusalem. The European Commission last week presented the first-ever EU Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life.

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With antisemitism worryingly on the rise, in Europe and beyond, the strategy intends to set out a series of measures articulated around three pillars: to prevent all forms of antisemitism; to protect and foster Jewish life and to promote research, education and Holocaust remembrance.

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Anti-semitism

Top Jewish amd Swedish leaders celebrate local Jewish community

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Ahead of a landmark global conference, top Jewish and Swedish leaders joined at Malmö Synagogue today to celebrate the history and life of the local Jewish community, especially its resilience during a period of heightened antisemitism in the region.

The synagogue event, hosted by the World Jewish Congress, along with the Official

Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the Jewish Community of Malmö, was held the day before the 13 October Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.

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The international forum, to be attended by heads of state or government of some 50 countries, will focus on identifying and implementing concrete steps to counter antisemitism and other forms of hatred and to advance Holocaust education and remembrance.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Jewish communal leaders shared their insights at Tuesday’s synagogue gathering about the rich history of the Jews of Sweden and next steps in fighting current-day expressions of hatred against Jews at the local and national levels.

In his remarks at the synagogue, Amb. Lauder said:

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“I have been dealing with antisemitism since I became involved in the Jewish world. That’s most of my adult life. I’ve witnessed it, I’ve talked to too many victims of antisemitism. I’ve also been the target of it, myself. I have seen people lose their lives … because they happened to be Jewish.”

Amb. Lauder also said, “I am aware that a just and reasonable settlement must be found with the Palestinian people. I have pursued a two-state solution for years and I have never given up on this idea. Two states for two people is the only way that this long conflict can finally come to a just conclusion.”

He added, “All schoolchildren must learn about the Holocaust and understand how it came about and where hatred ultimately leads.” He went on to advocate for a national holiday on January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, for schools worldwide to teach about the Holocaust.

“There is still so much to be done. I am not naïve; I realize the hatred of Jews has been with us for 2,000 years and will never completely go away. But we can do everything in our power to keep this virus from spreading. We applaud the Swedish Prime Minister and the government for taking the first steps. And I thank you for your help with the Jewish community here in protecting its synagogues, its school and its people,” Amb. Lauder concluded.

In recent years, antisemitism has occurred regularly in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, especially in its schools, and has gained international attention. Sweden’s top leaders have pledged to devote resources to democracy-strengthening initiatives in schools and other educational venues. At the end of March 2022, the country will assume the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and has pledged to open the Swedish Museum of the Holocaust by July 2022.  

“This week we are gathering here in Malmö to remember history’s darkest chapter, humanity’s darkest chapter,” Löfven said. “It didn’t take place on Swedish soil; however, when Jews started leaving Germany following 1933, most countries, Sweden included, were reluctant to accept more than a handful of Jewish refugees.”

He also said: “Every Shabbat candle lit, every song in Yiddish or Ladino and every Swedish Jew who wears a kippah or a Star of David with pride is a stance against hate.”

Dr. Nachman Shai, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, told the audience that Israel stood behind the Malmö Jewish community.

“It is the right of every Jewish individual to live full and proud Jewish lives wherever they choose,” he said. “Additionally, you should have the opportunity to proudly and actively have relationships with Israel … without being questioned.”

Ann Katina, chair of the Jewish Community of Malmö, emceed the ceremony while discussing the vibrant history of Jewish life in Malmö. The community will celebrate its 150th anniversary next month.

“Jewish life in Sweden is more than antisemitism,” Katina said, adding that a Jewish learning center will open in the synagogue “with the aim of increasing the knowledge of Jewish culture, religion, history, the Holocaust and antisemitism.”She joined Aron Verständig, Chair of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, in thanking the local community for its support and dedication to education.

Immediately after the close of the Oct. 13 forum, Amb. Lauder and Prime Minister Löfven will join a Holocaust survivor representing the Malmö Jewish community to reflect on the proceedings and to continue the conversation about how to end antisemitism. Media wishing to attend this event must already be credentialed to attend the Malmö Forum.

After Wednesday’s conference, WJC’s international meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) will convene to exchange views, share best practices and policies and evaluate progress in the shared fight against antisemitism. The SECCA forum comprises officials tasked with combating antisemitism, with participants from dozens of countries and from such organizations as the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations.

About the World Jewish Congress

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is the international organization representing Jewish communities in 100 countries to governments, parliaments and international organizations.

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