My letter to the editor was sent on January 22 but it has so far not been published, probably because it exceeds the ten-second soundbite. I reproduce it below for those who may be interested and for the record (scripta manent, if only on the internet).
To the Editor [of the Wall Street Journal]:.....
Andrew Apostolou’s “The Shame of Modern Greece” (Opinion Europe, January 20, 2010), about the arson attacks on a historic synagogue in Chania on the island of Crete, represents a case of a premature judgment used to support a simple-minded sermon without respect for the complexity of the historic relationship between the Greeks and the Jews, which stretches back about 2,500 years
Contrary to Mr. Apostolou, who did not have all the facts, of the five people accused of arson four are foreign, i.e. non-Greek nationals (two are British and two Americans), and one a Greek national; the two British and the Greek individuals have been arrested by the Greek police and will be charged based on video taped evidence of their actions and the confession of at least one of them. The US nationals are fugitives.
As for the larger issue of anti-Semitism in Greece, there are indeed bigots of all stripes in the country, though these are few and tend to be marginalized; Greece does not have an extreme rightist fascist or racist party that espouses anti-Semitism. Some on the left (including a major left-wing daily) promote “the now banal comparison of Israel with the Nazis,” a view that may be obnoxious but hardly racist. The comparison to anti-Semitism in Turkey falls flat, given that Hitler’s Mein Kampf has sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the last few years in that country, not to mention the fact that its political leadership is not particularly warm towards the state of Israel,
The relationship between the Greeks and the Jews is too complex to be reduced to slogans such as “[m]any Greeks do not know that their second largest city, Salonika, had a Jewish majority for most of its modern history.” The reality is that the many Greeks know this fact, as they also know that in 1492 the Jews were settled in Thessalonica by the Ottoman Turks after the latter had massacred and enslaved the Christian population of the city and seized its properties. The Jews replaced the tax base of which the Ottomans deprived themselves as a result of their massacres.
In the more recent past while during World War II over eighty percent of the Jews of Greece were exterminated by the National Socialist occupation forces, assisted by local collaborators (as in all of Europe), a significant number of Christian Greeks (including the family of the undersigned) simply assumed it their duty to protect and to hide their Jewish friends and neighbors. Mr. Apostolou’s accusatory tone about “the often shameful and ambiguous stance that too many (sic) Greeks took during the Second World War” reflects a studied ignorance of human nature universally and serves an anti-Greek political agenda. How many Europeans or Americans really intervened to stop the genocide of the Armenians, the Greeks and other Christians is Asia Minor by the Turks? Indeed many western countries still refuse to recognize that event, which prompted Raphael Lemkin to coin the very term genocide.