Darkness falls on Hania

Something frightening is happening in Hania, Crete. The Etz Hayyim Synagogue has been firebombed twice in 11 days and the incidents met mostly with indifference from the local community – a stance that is at odds with the values of a city that prides itself on its liberalism and tolerance of other cultures. The arsonists have not been identified, but it is believed they belong to far-right circles. In a city that does not have a strong extreme right-wing tradition, the first attack on January 5 could have been an isolated incident. The second, last Friday, shows that the arsonists could strike again with impunity. There has been a string of recent attacks on monuments commemorating the long presence of Jews in Greece, so brutally wiped out by the German occupation. Every act of anti-Semitism – just like every act against the «Other» – should be cause for concern and should be condemned, but it can also be partly explained by the rise of far-right elements in the past few years and the legitimization of their credo by the media. The perpetrators seem to enjoy a strange kind of impunity when they turn toward a Jewish target. This too, however, can be explained: Let’s not kid ourselves, hostility between Greeks and Jews dates back to Hellenistic and Roman times. But there were also many centuries of peaceful coexistence. With the destruction of the Jewish community of Crete in 1944, one would have thought that the least the Cretans could do was honor the memories of their compatriots. Instead, driven by anger at Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, «progressive» local leaders and the Church of Greece opposed the renovation of the synagogue. Hania does not have a Jewish community to «make waves.» The attacks, therefore, are rooted in the Nazi-inspired concept of «collective responsibility» and pure hatred. Whatever damage the stones of the old temple suffer, what will sink Hania into darkness is that so many people are prepared to forget the past and tolerate violence and bigotry.

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