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Study finds Greeks with soft spot for conspiracy theories are more likely to hold anti-Semitic views

A file photo of the Holocaust monument in Athens. According to a recent study carried out by a group of Greek experts, anti-Semitism in Greece is more common among people who are susceptible to the lure of conspiracy theories. [Nikos Vatopoulos]

By Harry van Versendaal

Anti-Semitism in Greece is more common among people who are susceptible to the lure of conspiracy theories, a new survey has shown.

The study, which was carried out by a group of Greek experts from local as well as international institutions and unveiled during a recent seminar in Berlin, was conducted before Israel's latest Gaza offensive.

“The more a person feels weak and victimized, the more they participate in the political culture of the underdog, the more they are to believe in conspiracy theories and hold anti-Semitic views,” Giorgos Antoniou, a professor of European history at the International Hellenic University (IHU) in Thessaloniki, told Kathimerini English Edition.

“The less adequately equipped someone is to live in today's quite complex and globalized world, the more likely they are to look elsewhere for interpretations of the world they live in,” Antoniou said. “This may even be within the sphere of racism, conspiracy or anti-Semitism specifically,” he said.

The research team, which also included Spyros Kosmidis and Elias Dinas from the University of Oxford and Leon Saltiel from the University of Macedonia, examined the correlation between people's leaning toward some of the most popular conspiracy theories – such as the moon landing hoax, the 9/11 truth movement, and the hidden cancer cure theory – and their degree of prejudice, hatred or discrimination against Jews. At the same time, the experts also looked at a wide range of factors such as age, education, ideological and political alignment, trust in other people or groups of people, and trust in institutions.

The survey found that almost half (47.3 percent) of those who tend not to believe in conspiracy theories also disagreed with the assertion that Jews exploit the Holocaust to gain influence. Specifically, 34 percent of them strongly disagreed with this statement.

In contrast, 76.3 percent of those with a strong belief in conspiracy theories agreed that Jews exploit the Holocaust to gain influence. Of that group, 51 percent strongly agreed with the claim.

Meanwhile, nearly 65 percent of survey respondents said they strongly agree or agree with the statement that Jews treat Palestinians the exact same way as Germans treated them during the Second World War. A similar percentage said they strongly agree or agree with the claim that Jews have exploited the Holocaust. Also 70 percent said they strongly agree or agree with the statement that Greeks have suffered worse genocides than the Jews.

Black mark

Following its own recent study, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defined 69 percent of Greeks as anti-Semitic, on a par with Saudi Arabia and more so than Iran.

According to the Greek study, anti-Semitic views are more intense among supporters of the neofascist Golden Dawn and right-wing populist Independent Greeks parties.

“Quite surprisingly however we found hardly any discrepancy between all other parties, measuring almost equal levels of anti-Semitism among supporters of conservative New Democracy, leftist SYRIZA and the Greek Communist Party (KKE),” said Dinas, a political scientist at Oxford University. Levels of anti-Semitism were found to be slightly lower among voters of socialist coalition partner PASOK and centrist newcomer To Potami (The River).

The researchers said they have not at this stage tried to interpret the causes of anti-Semitism in Greece, but merely to gauge sentiment.

However, Antoniou said, early data suggest that people with a higher level of education were less likely to hold anti-Semitic views.

“The lower one's level of education, the earlier they have left school, the more likely they are to believe in conspiracy and anti-Semitic theories,” Antoniou said. “Meanwhile, the quality of education here leaves a lot to be desired,” he said.

Despite the fact that anti-Semitic views are held by a large percentage of the population, Antoniou said, “instances of anti-Semitism have been rather isolated or minor.”

Game changer

The study, published under the title “Exploring Anti-Semitic Attitudes among the Greek Public: Evidence from a Representative Survey,” was carried out between June 23 and 27 on a random sample of 1,045 people.

About half of the telephone interviews were conducted shortly after Greece's FIFA World Cup last-gasp win over Ivory Coast on June 24 in Brazil, a result which put the country's national team through to the knockout stage of the tournament. Interestingly, researchers noted that respondents' ethnocentric and nationalist sentiments were on average higher after the match, while indications of anti-Semitism had declined.

“It seems likely that this occurred because people's sense of victimhood also decreased after the game. Typical 'underdog' feelings declined while Greeks' self-confidence as a nation increased,” Dinas said.

“As a result, they felt less inclined to either endorse conspiratorial theories or consider the Greeks as having suffered more than the Jews,” he said.

Blurred lines

The survey was carried out before Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to stop Hamas rocket fire out of Gaza. More than 750 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 32 Israelis, 29 of them soldiers, have died so far in the conflict.

Experts said that the longstanding unpopularity of Israeli policies in Greece has forged an unexpected consensus across the political spectrum.

“It often becomes hard to maintain sensitivity on the Palestinian issue without at the same time taking on the world's entire Jewish population,” Antoniou said.

“In this environment, it is difficult to distinguish between legitimate political opposition to Israeli actions and anti-Semitism,” he said.

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