Abravanel, the Blog

Jewish life and not only in Greece / Εβραϊκή ζωή και όχι μόνο στην Ελλάδα

Archive for Μαρτίου 2007

US State Department’s Report on Human Rights Practices

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 20/03/2007

As every year the US State Department issued it’s «Report on Human Rights Practices». Surely it’s gonna create malcontent in Greece since it isn’t all flowers and roses and will be perceived as US intervention in private affairs but still I think it’s a good initiative; hope the greek/EU protests on Guantanamo will create the same clamor. :P Here’s the excerpts dealing with the greek jewish community:

The law provides for freedom of religion; however, non‑Orthodox groups at times faced administrative obstacles or legal restrictions on religious practices.

The law establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ (Greek Orthodoxy) as the «prevailing» religion. The Greek Orthodox Church continued to exercise significant political and economic influence. The government financially supported the Greek Orthodox Church and also paid the salaries and some expenses of the two official Muslim religious leaders in Thrace. Jewish leaders requested that the government pay rabbis’ salaries, given its practice of paying Orthodox priests’ and Muslim muftis’ salaries; the government had not responded to this request by year’s end.

The government, by virtue of the status of the Greek Orthodox Church as the prevailing religion, recognizes de facto its canon law. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions. Orthodox Church officials refused to enter into dialogue with religious groups that they considered harmful to Orthodox worshippers, and they instructed their members to shun followers of these faiths.

Non-Orthodox citizens claimed that they faced career limits in the military, police, fire‑fighting forces, and civil service due to their religion.

Legislation providing for religious worker visas was passed in 2005, remedying the difficulty reported in the past by some religious denominations in renewing the visas of non-EU citizen religious officials.

Religious instruction is mandatory for all Greek Orthodox students in primary and secondary schools, but not for non‑Orthodox students. Some government-approved religious textbooks made derogatory statements about non-Greek Orthodox faiths. Since schools did not supervise non-Orthodox children while Greek Orthodox children were taking religious instruction, non-Orthodox parents complained that they were effectively forced to have their children attend Greek Orthodox classes.

The Jewish community has approximately 5,000 members. Anti-Semitism continued to exist, particularly in the extremist press. The mainstream press and public often did not clearly distinguish between criticism of Israel and comments about Jews. In 2004 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and GHM criticized the press for carrying anti-Semitic stories and cartoons on several occasions. For example, on August 16, Eleftherotypia, the second largest daily newspaper, published a cartoon depicting an Israeli soldier praying with a rifle that was firing swastikas. Candidates for the political party LAOS, the fifth largest party, have made anti-Semitic statements during the campaign for municipal offices in the Fall. The party’s weekly paper A1 published strongly anti-Semitic articles accusing the Israelis of genocide against the Lebanese people. A July editorial stated that if «the Jews continue this way, they will beat Hitler’s number of victims.» Anti-Semitic references as well as comparisons with the Holocaust were common in the press during the July-August conflict involving Israel and Lebanon, while some major media promoted the image of Israel as the «Nazi-state.» On the other hand, Hezbollah fighters were often seen as «freedom fighters» and «resistance groups.»

Vandalism of Jewish monuments decreased, although the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki was vandalized during an antiwar demonstration in August; the government condemned the vandalism. As of December, police had not found the perpetrators of the 2004 desecration of Holocaust memorials in Komotini in Thrace. Several times throughout the year extreme right-wing groups painted anti-Semitic graffiti along with their symbols and organization names at multiple locations, including the busy Athens‑Corinth and Athens-Tripoli highways, and other public structures. In February the prosecutor filed a lawsuit against «Golden Dawn» for defacing public property and painting anti-Semitic graffiti during the course of the last several years.

In April the Central Board of the Jewish Communities of Greece continued to protest the Easter tradition of burning a life-size effigy of Judas, sometimes referred to as the «burning of the Jew,» which they maintained propagated hatred and fanaticism against Jews. One Greek Orthodox bishop, a local NGO, and the Wiesenthal Center expressed formal written objections to this tradition. The Jewish Community also protested anti-Semitic passages in the Holy Week liturgy and it reported that it maintained a dialogue with the Orthodox Church about the removal of these passages.

Some schoolbooks carried negative references to Roman Catholics, Jewish persons, members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.

Negotiations continued between the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and the government to find acceptable restitution for the community’s cemetery, expropriated after its destruction during the Holocaust. Aristotle University, a public institution, was built on top of the expropriated cemetery.

Jewish community leaders condemned anti-Semitic broadcasts on small private television stations, but authorities did not bring charges against these largely unlicensed operators.

The government co-sponsored commemorative events in Athens and Thessaloniki in January for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This was followed two weeks later by the visit of Israel’s President Moshe Katsav, the first official visit of an Israeli head of state. The Ministry of Education distributed materials to schools on the history of the Holocaust to be read in all schools on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and teacher-training seminars on the Holocaust were held.

Religious affiliation was very closely linked to ethnicity. Many attributed the preservation of national identity to the actions of the Greek Orthodox Church during approximately 400 years of Ottoman rule and the subsequent nation-building period. The Church exercised significant social, political, and economic influence, and it owned a considerable, although undetermined, amount of property.

Many Greeks assumed that any ethnic Greek was also an Orthodox Christian. Some non-Orthodox citizens complained of being treated with suspicion or told that they were not truly Greek when they revealed their religious affiliation.
In June 2006, an amendment to an existing law was accepted by Parliament abolishing the practice by which the ministry sought the opinion of the local Greek Orthodox bishop on whether to grant house of prayer permits for faiths other than Greek Orthodox. Non-Orthodox faiths had objected to this practice.

For more info and the full report including Roma, refugees, ethnic turk greeks and others issues visit here and here. For a more detailed talk on these matters visit DeviousDiva’s post where was also the first place I read about the review. :)

small edit just to claim the blog at sync.gr

Posted in greece, the jews did it!, the world | 1 Comment »

How to insult a greek!

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 19/03/2007

Greece isn’t characterized by a high sense of civil duty when it comes to respect of private or public property and graffiti, (and I don’t mean nice drawings like this but pointless slogans usually politically or sport oriented), is widespread. These slogans are great social indicators and often are excellent to use when analyzing social trends.

Teacher Dude’s Grill and BBQ blog had some interesting photos from Thessaloniki. The last one is especially colorful, was spotted near the stadium of PAOK, (a soccer/basketball team from Salonica) and is the one reproduced here. Out of respect for his students, I imagine, he didn’t translate it but I thought it was worthwhile:


«Jews Gay…»«Jews cunts»

I thought it was interesting to see how in an effort to insult their opponents the fans use the classical insults from the racist/sexist repertoire. For a man, presuming that all supporters are male, an opponent is so low in the food chain that he can be compared only to women and homosexuals. While for women they use the derogative term «cunts» concentrating on what women are good for, (as their philosophy implies), we see that for homosexuals they simply write «gay» and not a worse term like «fagots» or something similar; maybe they feel just the word is enough to procure offense. And of course a standard adjective is the «jew» which is the carrier of a wide variety of negative values and always a sure way to denigrate an opponent.

Always the hooligan insults in Greece are characterized by an extreme actuality and the exact opposite of political correctness. It is interesting that once a friend asked me if, as a greek Jew myself, knew if indeed Jews had founded the team of Aris Saloniki. I answered that to the best of my knowledge that this was not true and I inquired on why he wanted to know. He replied that often other fans accused him that his team was founded by Jews and he wanted to verify it! Apparently the simple fact that possibly a jew could be involved in the founding of a team was a reason enough to be contaminated, a kind of original sin. It wasn’t important that Aris doesn’t have anything to do with jews, (neither players, nor managers, nor anything else in his history), it was enough that a jew might have «touched» him to contaminate him forever without any chance of redemption. By the way probably this is the reason of why jews get the dubious honour of getting mentioned twice on the same wall, they get identified with the arch-enemy of PAOK, the team of Aris. So they become target for two reasons: one because as jews they’re a just object of hate and also because they’re identified with the traditional opponents.

Although hate speech in Greece is proscribed by law, people aren’t really scandalized when seeing it and in the specific case of graffiti no action is ever taken. Even repeated and specific requests by human rights organizations to erase them have no effect like the numerous reports by the Greek Helsinki Watch show. Anyway to wrap this post up here’s an advice for our foreign readers: next time you’ll want to insult your greek friend go with the «jew», it’s a no-brainer!

Posted in greece, the jews did it!, thessaloniki | Με ετικέτα: , , , | 41 Σχόλια »

Los kaminos de una komunidad

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 11/03/2007

Los kaminos de una komunidad

The Judeo-Spanish People/Los Djudeo-Espanyoles

This small book written by Richard Ayoun, was published in 2003 by the French governmental department of Veteran Affairs (DMPA), the Museo Djudio de Salonik, UNESCO and is an excellent start for those wishing to learn the history of the Sefardic Jews, ie the Jews that were expelled from Spain in 1492 and in a great extent ended up in the then Ottoman Empire and created in Salonika the biggest and most important sefardic community after 1492.

In its 81 pages one finds the history before 1492, the Expulsion, the history during the Ottoman Empire, the Alliance Israèlite Universelle chapter, the imigration, their extermination during WW2 and the lives today. It is well structured, includes many nice photos and has some information which even I wasn’t aware of. An example being René Cassin, one of the most important contributors to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Nobel prize winner…and a sefardic jew.

It’s a great introduction on sefardic culture and if you manage to get one of the 9500 copies consider yourself extremely lucky. Thanks to Google you can get the djudeospanish version though unfortunately it’s text only – just click here.

And as a bonus you can find out more about Abravanel! :)

Posted in Books and stuff, Un cavretico... | 1 Comment »

Greek History textbooks.

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 06/03/2007

DeviousDiva has been very kind and has published a small article I wrote on the absence of the Shoah in the Greek History textbook used in the last class of greek highschools. I’m going to post it here later but for the time being you can read it & comment there; while being there I’d also suggest taking the time to read other posts and especially the Roma series. :)

Again a huge thanks to DeviousDiva! More here -> http://deviousdiva.com/2007/03/06/guest-blogger-2/

March 11th update – here’s the complete article.

Greek Textbooks

sxolika-vivlia.jpgOften when treating themes concerning human rights we often resort to the exhortation: Educate, educate and again educate (and here the emphasis classically is placed upon the “youths, the hope of our nation” as they’re so often described). Sometimes this concept is stressed so heavily that one could argue that it is a wicked and devious way to shift responsibilities from our shoulders and bestow them on the shoulders of the generations to come, sparing us from the responsibility to do something today. But this mischievous behavior doesn’t change the fact that indeed it is the only durable solution that really secures a future and a necessary premise for any initiative to counter racist behaviours in the society.

A core part of this process is played by the school, which together with the collective conscience and the family, are the ones who determine behaviour and in general the collective ideas of what’s acceptable or normal and what’s not. The importance of this institution is not to be diminished, a fact that state diplomacies take heavily into account.

Recently Germany and France agreed to have a common History textbook in an effort to highlight the things that unite rather than the things that separate them. To the same effect, the conference of the Balkan states agreed that a revision of the textbooks was in order in attempt to overcome a difficult past and promote a more peaceful approach between neighbours.

Greek readers also know that each new “generation” of textbooks reflects the current political sensitivities of the era. Still, a common denominator in all textbooks from all eras is the almost complete lack of any mentioning to the Greek Shoah and the extermination of 60.000 Greek Jews, 80% of the original population with peaks as 97.5% of Thessaloniki. In the post war years, one could argue that neither was the communist-led resistance during WW2 mentioned, (due to the civil war that followed and the anti-communist hysteria during the Cold War by the conservative parties that dominated the political scene), so it was just the “typical” anti-Semitic Right view of History. But there are no excuses for the modern textbooks, which were revised by the socialist party PASOK in the ‘80s, to mirror the nation’s unity against the Nazi-fascist invader, to promote National Reconciliation and to finally close the Civil War chapter by recognizing the importance of the communist-led Resistance.

In Greek textbooks WW2 is extensively studied in the last year of high school with two chapters covering WW2, the Greek involvement, the Resistance and the Greek casualties. In total, there are 53 pages in a 500 book pages, of which 20 are dedicated to the Resistance and the civil casualties due to famine or German executions. This includes both the main text which is obligatorily and the extra testimonies, and photos which are present but not mandatory to read and officially not among the material that a student can be examined on, (in Greek called πηγές/sources).

The Shoah from the whole WW2 takes a total of 8 lines in 3-column page for a staggering 1/6th of a page. The Greek Jews are not mentioned even once in the main text but qualify for a total of 3×4cm mention among the sources!

In detail, we see that in the non-obligatory sources pages the testimony of the commander of Auschwitz states that “more than 3.000.000 people died” and “Among the victims there were 100.000 German Jews and a large amount of Jews of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Greece”. The casual reader figures that from the millions of dead in Auschwitz only a small fraction are Jews maybe as many as 200.000 in total since the largest group among them appears to be the 100.000 German Jews with the smaller populations following.

In the main text we find only a generic reference to “millions of dead in the concentration camps” without saying that 6 million of these were Jews though we must admit with great generosity, that it does refer to the hunt down of Jews as “genocide”; again it should be noted that no mention about Greek Jews is made.It is of relevance that these two small mentions to the Shoah are a part of the chapter that is occupied with the generic events of WW2 and not the second chapter referring to the Occupation of Greece as if these didn’t impact directly on the Greek human casualties.

While the executions of Greek civilians by the Italians, Bulgarians and Germans at the villages of Doxato, Kalavryta, Choriatis and other are minutely recorded both in the main text and in the extra material with photos and testimonies for pages and pages, there is absolutely no mention of the Greek Shoah. The author’s description of the events is detailed enough for us to learn the exact numbers of executions, a total of an 49.188 executions and estimated 300.000 deaths from famine; in addition we learn the numbers and detailed descriptions of the aforementioned massacres but still they fail to give any indication if any Greek Jews died and how many of them.

While heroic acts of the Resistance are told together with German and Bulgarian atrocities, there is no mentioning of the deportation of many of the Thessaloniki Jews into labor camps at Lagadas before the deportation to the death camps, where many of them died of malaria and hardships. Nor we find any mention to the proud answer of the Thracian Jews who denied acquiring Bulgarian citizenship and were deported and exterminated while the Bulgarian Jews were saved!

In the end no mention is made to the only revolt that was made in Auschwitz, which was organized, by Greek and Polish Jews (and some state they died singing the Greek national anthem!)

The reader should bear in mind that this isn’t “the usual Jewish whine” about the Shoah, (as many anti-Semites often remark), but an impressive omission of Greek heroic acts while the book is not stingy about referring them when treating non-Jews in its effort to install patriotism among the children. Even if we’d forget the objections that a liberal would make about this particular way of teaching History, even the most cynical, the most “patriotic” right wing reader would agree that some of the events mentioned before would be a source of pride for the Greek nation and an example of how a “real Greek” should behave and at the same time give international glory to Greece, something all nationalists covet.

Why then are these not mentioned? Brevity is not the reason since an entire chapter is dedicated to the Resistance and the Greek civilian casualties. Interestingly the word “Holocaust” is used but it’s reserved for the massacre of 165 Greeks at Metsovo.

How can one ask for Christian Greeks to consider their Jewish compatriots as true Greeks when they lack the most basic of knowledge about them or how they fulfilled their duty in WW2 only to find death in the crematories 3 years later? How can one ask the Thessaloniki Left movements, who marched and desecrated the Monument to the Shoah, to respect their city’s dead when nobody tells them they existed?

These students who today fail to learn anything from their school about a Greek tragedy like this one, (because unless we begin to consider this as a Greek tragedy and not a Jewish one, nothing will change), are the ones repeating their usual mantra. They say that the Shoah maybe indeed happen but is exaggerated in numbers, that the Jews should leave if they don’t like it in Greece, that after all they whine too much and it wasn’t something more terrible than the rest of the world had etc. And to top this they say that the Jews show no allegiance to the Greek state despite every time the Greek State has asked the Greek Jewish community to act, it has answered their call.

If one wishes to extend this line of thought, one can argue that even if today the textbooks changed, we would need two generations to have this history known because the teacher and the family who influence the children would simply not be convinced, partly nullifying the work done by the official school policy.

Are things as dramatic as I depict them? My experiences, as a Greek Jew, tell me they indeed are and the situation will not improve since no real effort is being made other than symbolic efforts to have something to present when international pressure is exerted on Greece. One example is the way the Shoah is presented in the new History textbook for 6th grade, and that’s the subject of my next installment.

Posted in greece, Shoah | Με ετικέτα: , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 04/03/2007


Genesis written on an egg I needed a first post to kick off this blog and here it is. To be reading this you probably came here knowing what you were going to see, so instead of telling you of what you’ll be seeing in the future I was thinking of telling you why this was born.

Well the reason is simply because the void that the Shoah created still exists out there over the dead but in a peculiar way also over the living. From the searching I’ve done with the exception of the institutional sites of the greek-jewish communities, which are almost always outdated, there are almost no sites or blogs concerning the Jewish life and history in Greece and the ones that do exist usually cover the past and not the present.

This void has given birth to a strange phenomenon: though Greece has never experienced a virulent antisemitism to the extent of some European nations, today is hailed as one of the most antisemitic countries in Europe. But, still, this climate doesn’t get translated into violent acts other than an occasional vandals on jewish monuments or the delirium of some far-Right but also, to my personal dismay, of far-Left public figures. On the other hand there is a complete void in the society about it’s jewish community and a strange defensive attitude though we’re talking only about 3000-5000 people in an 11.000.000 country, less than 0.045%. People are always ready to complain about how we’re always talking about jews And the Shoah And the world jewish lobby And And And… Still in all of my life I’ve never seen more than two times in the greek telly shows on the greek jews and a handful more about the Shoah which in 95% of the cases is foreign productions. Till 3-4 years ago there wasn’t a memorial day about the Shoah and the Shoah is not taught in schools. And when the jews of today are trying to restore some of the monuments left, like the synagogue in Chania, they receive threats by the local government and church with threats of physical violence! All this among the Middle East mayhem which makes the traditionally filo-palestinian public opinion rave literally with anger which gets reversed to all of the jews collectively being responsible for the often violent acts of Israel. I’m afraid to think what would happen if we didn’t rule Greece!

In any case this produces fear, fear to talk, fear to complain, fear to appear un-hellenic the same way in the ‘50s in the McCarthic USA one feared getting labeled as “un-american”. To top this we have a strange alliance between the Left and the Right where everyone attacks the greek jews and no one is saying anything to defend them; the conservatives because jews are known to conspire to become world leaders while the liberals see them as the long arm of the US! And in a country where every group has the sacrosanct right to block any street, the concerns of the local jewish community are treated as impertinent whines from people who want to disgrace the country.

This place is gonna hold some stuff I’m going to write over some episodes. It’s not going to be necessarily over current events and will not be “informing” you of anything, there are better places for that. It’s simply going to take specific events, often from the web, and comment on the imperceptible line that divides the greek society and we constantly trip every time we try to get over it.

Enjoy the show till it lasts!



image: The book of Genesis written on an egg – seemed an nice picture to begin with.

Posted in me myself and I | 2 Σχόλια »

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