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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.

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.

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“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.

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.

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‘’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

83 years after Kristallnacht, Jewish leader warns: Europe can become ‘Judenfrei’ in 10 years

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"There are more Jews in Europe who think that there will be no more Jewish community here in a decade than those who think that there is still hope," declared Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

"I am not saying that in ten years you will not be able to see Jewish people in Europe but I am very worried about the possibility to have Jewish presence in ten years from now," he added as he addressed 160 ministers, parliamentarians and diplomats from across Europe who gathered for two days in Krakow, Poland, to discuss ways to increase Holocaust education and remembrance, fight against antisemitism and develop tools to combat hate speech and incitement in the age of social networks.

The gathering included also a tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps where a candle lighting ceremony and wreath laying were held in the presence of Rabbi Meir Lau, former chief Rabbi of Israel and President of the Council of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Among the speakers at the conference were Moroccan Minister of Culture and Youth Mohamed

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Mehdi Bensaid, Roberta Metsola, European Parliament Vice-President, Hungarian Minister of Science and Education Zoltan Maruzsa, Minister of Education of Rhineland-Palatinate Stefanie Hubig, British Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi, as well as the Speakers of the Parliaments of Slovenia and Montenegro.

The conference took place on the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of Broken Glass, when on 9 November 1938 the Nazis started the anti-Jewish pogroms by  killing Jews, burning 1400 synagogues and destroying shops owned by Jews across Germany and Austria.

“Europe is fighting anti-Semitism, but it is not winning yet. If this upward trend continues, more and more Jews will seek sanctuary in Israel rather than stay in a continent that cannot learn the lessons and cataclysmic mistakes of its past. We are not yet in the state of Judenfrei but, unfortunately we are approaching it,’’  Rabbi Margolin emphasized.

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He noted that Jews who seek to eat according to the customs of their religion cannot do so in certain countries because of laws banning kosher slaughter. And in some cities on the continent Jews cannot walk safely in their traditional clothes.

"Education, he said, is the most effective vaccine in combatting the world’s oldest and most virulent virus."

Addressing the symposium in a video from Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett said: "In the Middle Ages Jews were persecuted because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries Jews were reviled because of their race, and today Jews are attacked because of their Nation State, Israel."

"It is worrying that there needs to be a conference about Anti-Semitism in Auschwitz so soon after the Holocaust," the Israeli premier said, adding that "so long as Israel remains strong, Jewish people around the world will be strong."

British Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi stated that: “The Holocaust was a failure for humanity and justice. The worst event in history. Nothing can erase the pain. I can feel the pain because my whole family has run away from Saddam Hussein’s rule. As Kurds, we had to escape. We fled when I was 7 years old from Iraq to the UK."

The symposium in Krakow was followed by a visit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps where a candle light ceremony and wreath laying took place.

He added: "I understand the important role of UK teachers in Holocaust education. Learning about history is something we sanctify in the UK. Due to the corona, virtual visits to Auschwitz increased. We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and racism. Anti-hate education is our top priority in the UK. I urge universities to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism," he said in a reference to antisemitism  on campuses.

German Minister of Education of the Rhineland-Palatinate State, Stefanie Hubig  said: “I work hard to preserve the memory of the Holocaust in schools. We work to bring teachers to visit memorial sites and promote Jewish education in schools. This is all important because, unfortunately, there are still reasons why we must continue to remember.”

In a message from Rabat, Moroccan Minister of Culture and Youth, Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid, stressed that this conference is taking place at a time when more and more radical ideologies promoting anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are flourishing. "As long as the danger of radicalism hovers over the world, we all have a duty to remind and teach our younger generation in Morocco and around the world about the dark chapter of the Holocaust in human history."

Kálmán Szalai, secretary of the European Action and Protection League (APL) identified education as an important means of reducing anti-Semitic prejudice and emphasized that "the knowledge passed on to new generations can fundamentally influence the choice of values in adulthood".

A recent survey by the APL showed the persistence of anti-Jewish prejudices in the population of several countries in Europe.

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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."

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.

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“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.

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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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.

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.

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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:

“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.”

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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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