Athens — For every Jew who lives in Greece, there are about 100 Greeks who voted for the country’s neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, last spring.
The party now controls 18 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament, and its popularity is rising rapidly: A poll taken in October showed that if elections were held again today, Golden Dawn would capture 14 percent of the vote, making it Greece’s third-largest party. A September poll showed that 22 percent of Greeks have positive views of Golden Dawn, up from 12 percent in May.
With its swastika-like flag, gangs of black-shirted thugs attacking immigrants and its ideology of Greek racial superiority, Golden Dawn’s sudden and significant rise has prompted condemnations from around the world.
It also has put many of Greece’s 5,000 Jews on edge. Community leaders already have begun a campaign to educate Greeks about the dangers of allowing a neo-Nazi party to flourish, and Greek Jews are trying to figure out what more they can do to arrest Golden Dawn’s rise.
“We definitely think that a very basic tool to promoting social equality and combating the rise of extremists like Golden Dawn is educating schoolchildren,” said Zanet Battinou, director the Jewish Museum of Greece.
The museum and its programs teach visiting schoolchildren about Greece’s Jewish community, its heritage and, in particular, about the Holocaust, in which more than 80 percent of Greek Jews were murdered.
The museum also has set up a traveling exhibition, works extensively with Greek schools to aid in teaching about the Holocaust and, together with the Israeli Embassy in Athens, sent 24 Greek teachers to the International School for Holocaust Studies at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.
“It certainly is a very strong weapon against misinformation, bigotry and prejudice,” Battinou said. “But the biggest benefit is, and should be, to teach young people to think for themselves.”
While Golden Dawn mostly has targeted those it holds responsible for Greece’s dire economic plight and its international humiliation – immigrants from Asia and Africa, politicians and the Communist opposition – the party also has a clear anti-Semitic streak.