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Athens — Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, denies there were gas chambers or ovens at Nazi death camps and has a penchant for giving the Nazi salute. Statements from the party refer to Israel as a “Zionist terror state.” Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who made international headlines when he punched a female Communist Party member in the face during a live television debate, recently read out a passage from the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in parliament.
“We must react to everything they do against the Jews,” David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told JTA. “We protest, we fight in every instance where there are displays of anti-Semitism and will not let ourselves fall down. We take every measure we can within the spirit of democracy.”
The Greek Jewish community is also trying to maintain a dialogue with the government and mainstream political parties and urging them to take a stronger stand, according to Saltiel.
Outside Jewish groups are stepping in, too. In response to the rise of Golden Dawn, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which assists Greece’s 500 Holocaust survivors, has begun funding the Greek Jewish museum’s traveling exhibition on anti-Semitism.
“For survivors that went through what these people went through during the war, many of whom were saved by the underground efforts of other Greeks, they never expected that in their lifetime they would see Greek support for a Nazi-like party,” said the Claims Conference’s chairman, Julius Berman. “There must be complete horror.”
Golden Dawn’s political ascendance has been fast and furious, propelled by a Greek public weary of five years of economic depression, massive unemployment and what they see as Greece’s international humiliation and its betrayal by the politicians who got them into this mess. Similar factors led to Hitler’s rise in Weimar Germany, some have noted.
For years, Golden Dawn had lingered as a tiny party on the fringes of society. In the 2009 elections, the party won just 0.29 percent of the vote. But in elections in May and a do-over in June, the party captured just under 7 percent of the vote. Its popularity has been growing ever since.
Given the relatively small size of the country’s Jewish community, Jewish leaders are aware that their efforts may appear like a drop in an ocean of hate and that they alone cannot fight Golden Dawn’s rise.