An open wound

The question of whether the Greeks are anti-Semitic never fails to cause a furor. It is like a wound that never heals. Most Greeks claim, with passion, that they have no problem with Jews, noting the efforts many Greeks made to protect Jews during the Nazi occupation. But observers note the ease with which many Greeks (including some intellectuals and journalists) blame many of the world’s ills on Jews. The Greeks counter that they are simply criticizing the Israeli government’s policies regarding the Palestinians. The problem is that the historical context is fraught with myths, tragedies and misunderstandings. And above everything hovers the Holocaust, which destroyed Greece’s ancient Jewish community. Many Greeks appear unaware of the sensitivity Jews and various international observers have to anything smacking of attributing collective responsibility. At the same time, many observers appear excessively sensitive to Greek comments. Exaggerations feed a silly antagonism. Greeks and Jews have shared a complex history since Hellenistic times. A frank dialogue would allow Greeks to criticize Israel without presenting Jews as Nazis and without using language that might suggest bigotry. And Israelis (regardless of provocations) should be aware that the tragedy of the Jews has made the whole world sensitive to the use of violence by a state, and they should understand that not all censure is anti-Semitism. Both Greeks and Jews should learn to take criticism. But first they must remember their shared history and see behind the myths. One needs only to read Giorgos Ioannou’s short story on «The Elimination of the Jews» to understand the «absolute horror.» He wrote of the Thessaloniki Jews he saw being marched off to their deaths: «They were, in their great majority, neither tycoons, nor bankers, nor lords, but simply poor wretches, like us.»