Israel slams ‘anti-Semitic’ words of Greek composer

Israel has complained to the Greek government about comments by composer Mikis Theodorakis who called Jews «the root of evil» and dismissed key Biblical figures as mere «shadows,» a diplomatic source said yesterday. The source, who requested anonymity, said the Israeli Embassy in Athens pointed out the «gravity» of the remarks by Theodorakis, who is best known (outside Greece) for the score of the 1964 film «Zorba the Greek.» Israeli officials, including a board member of the country’s main Holocaust museum, joined in the denunciations. Theodorakis, 78, made the comments at a November 4 news conference to promote his book, «Where Can I Find My Soul.» The event was attended by some senior government officials. «We are two nations without brothers in the world, us and the Jews, but they have fanaticism and are forceful… Today we can say that this small nation is the root of evil, not of good, which means that too much self-importance and too much stubbornness is evil,» he told the audience of journalists and officials including Cultural Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Education Minister Petros Efthymiou. According to the daily Apogevmatini newspaper, Theodorakis said Greece «did not turn aggressive like them» because of its rich history. «They only had Abraham and Jacob, shadows… We had the great Pericles here,» Theodorakis was quoted as saying. Abraham is revered as the founder of Judaism. Jacob is considered the father of the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. Pericles ruled during Athens’s so-called «Golden Age» about 2,500 years ago and was responsible for the building of the Parthenon and other landmarks of ancient Greece. The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece said Theodorakis’s statements recalled «ideas of the dark Middle Ages and slogans used by Nazi Germany» and spread «winds of bigotry and racism.» Government spokesman Christos Protopapas said Greece «doesn’t endorse or agree with the opinions» of Theodorakis. [Theodorakis issued a statement later yesterday – see sidebar.] In Jerusalem, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing the comments as «anti-Semitic» and expressing «sorrow that such remarks were made by a personality of his stature.» An Israeli lawmaker, Ronny Brizon, appealed for a boycott of Theodorakis’s works by broadcasters. Theodorakis’s prolific career includes songs for the Palestinian Liberation Organization as well as the 1965 album «Mauthausen Cantata,» dedicated to Nazi concentration camp victims. Avner Shalev, a member of the executive board of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, urged Theodorakis to visit to «refresh his memory.» Shalev called the comments part of the «brainwashing in Europe against Israel» and «encouraging latent anti-Semitism,» the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported. Sympathy for the Palestinians is high in Greece and protests are often held to criticize Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories. Israeli and Jewish leaders have expressed fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. European and EU leaders have also condemned the results of a recent Eurobarometer poll, which indicated 59 percent of the EU’s citizens think Israel is a threat to world peace.