Jewish leaders express mixed feelings on new Greek government

( Jewish leaders have expressed both hope and concern over the outcome of the Greek election on Sunday, in which the radical left-wing Syriza party won 149 parliament seats and 36.3 percent of the vote. 

The leader of the Syriza party and the new prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Syriza officials have called for the end of Israel’s “brutality against Palestinians,” and Panos Kammenos—the leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, with whom Syriza formed a majority coalition—garnered accusations of anti-Semitism last December for claiming that Greek Jews do not pay taxes. Golden Dawn, an extreme-right neo-Nazi party, placed third in results that polls suggested were driven largely by voters’ economic concerns.

The Greek Jewish community consists of about 5,000 people out of the country’s total population of 11.2 million, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The community has experienced rising anti-Semitic sentiment that is correlated with both the country’s economic crisis as well as escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

JDC's Europe Director Diego Ornique told that "It is far too early to make predictions about how the outcome of these elections will impact Greek Jews, who like their neighbors have had to suffer through a grueling financial crisis and the added scourge of Golden Dawn's anti-Semitism and extremism. But we remain at their side, working together with the Jewish community's leadership to ensure stability and opportunity for Greece's Jews."

B’nai Brith International told in a statement that the group is concerned by some “past statements about Israel made by [Syriza] party leaders,” but hopes “that the relationship with Israel, which had been building over the past decade in many fields, will be unaffected by the outcome.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said his organization looks to the Syriza-led government “to continue the measures implemented during the past years, and assure all minority communities, who are an integral part of Greece, that they will continue to be fully protected and respected, and that there will be no place for anti-Semitism in mainstream Greek society.”

Yet Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s director of international Jewish affairs, told that there are “troubling signs” from the election, including “the continued presence of the Golden Dawn party in the Greek Parliament despite the efforts of the [now-defeated New Democracy] government to prosecute the party’s leaders for criminal behavior, and the willingness—although some will argue necessity—of Syriza forming a government with the problematic Greek Independent Party.”

“No one doubts that it was the severe economic situation that propelled Syriza to victory, and it will now be measured by its success in dealing with it,” said Baker. “Those dire conditions and the political instability that flowed from them were certainly not beneficial, including to Greece’s small Jewish community.”

Posted on January 26, 2015 .