By Tom Ellis
NEW YORK - The American Jewish Committee praised the Greek government for taking bold action against Golden Dawn. It's Executive Director, David Harris, said that as the "very essence of democracy in Greece is at stake, the message is clear from the Greek government that the forces of violent extremism are a threat to society and will not be tolerated.”
In an interview with Kathimerini, David Harris, who will host a meeting with Prime Minister Samaras in New York on Monday, highlighted the need for the law against racism to be adopted as soon as possible, recognized the risks involved in taking on a political party that serves in the Parliament, but noted that Golden Dawn has crossed the line a long time ago, and made clear that as the Greek - Israeli strategic relationship flourishes, the Jewish community will continue to find ways to help Greece.
"The government of Prime Minister [Antonis] Samaras has recognized the absolute necessity of saying 'enough is enough,' and of taking meaningful actions to stop the madness of Golden Dawn" said Harris, adding that "a party cannot be allowed to cynically use the freedom that democracy offers to subvert that very freedom.”
How do people of the Jewish faith and, more broadly, Americans, view the meteoric rise of a party like Golden Dawn? They used to get around 0.2 percent of the vote, and suddenly in 2012 they ended up with 7 percent.
This has been a matter of considerable concern, and not just to Jews but to all who care about the spirit of democratic values and of mutual respect among different groups.
Are you concerned by the latest events in Greece with respect to Golden Dawn?
Of course. Greece is the symbol of democracy for so many, as it is the birthplace of our political values. When a Greek political party, using the tools of democracy to reach parliament, then turns to the tactics of intimidation and violence, while invoking Nazi imagery, it sounds alarm bells.
Could that be the beginning of the end for them? The polls show them dropping from 11 percent down to 5 percent in just a week.
I am not in a position to make any predictions, but, obviously, I hope that more and more Greeks, who may have been attracted to the party because of its simplistic slogans or the promise of a free meal, will understand that Golden Dawn actually offers a dead-end vision for the country.
How do you assess the way the government is now dealing with the issue?
The toughening stance of the government is entirely appropriate. Golden Dawn cannot hide behind the shield of democracy, and, at the same time, abuse the rights of democracy to threaten or silence others. And it is equally important that the government has the legal tools necessary to confront such a menace in the country’s midst. Apropos, legislation has been under discussion to ban the promotion of racism, incitement or Holocaust denial. We believe that such legislation, which has been adopted, in one form or another, in many other European countries, deserves prompt consideration.
Is taking legal action to outlaw a democratically elected party the right answer ?
This is a tricky question. Are there boundaries for a democracy beyond which behavior becomes unacceptable? While deeply committed to the principles of democracy, yes, there are indeed limits. For example, if a party espouses violence or terrorism, should it be permitted to run in an election and sit in parliament? And what about a party that invokes the Third Reich as an inspirational model, despite the terrible horrors inflicted on Greece and other European countries just a few decades ago? More than once, we have seen such parties, from the Nazis to Hamas, run as a “legitimate” political party, only to then undo the very democracy that brought them to power.
Is this phenomenon the result of the dire economic conditions in the country or are there so many racists among the Greek population?
From my many conversations with Greek friends, the driving issues appear to be the immensely difficult economic situation, the fear that Greece is no longer the master of its own destiny, and the changing socio-demographic profile of the country. But the answers to the seismic shocks Greece has endured are not to be found in the sewer of the Golden Dawn platform, but rather in a reaffirmation of Greek unity and resolve to create a new sense of hope, dynamism and faith in the future. Parading around, strutting, swaggering, flexing muscles, and dividing Greeks by background are not the path to better days. That should be abundantly clear.
Greek PM Samaras will be in NY next week and will meet with the American Jewish Community. What will you be telling him?
Yes, AJC (American Jewish Committee) will have the honor of hosting our friend, Prime Minister Samaras, in New York. We have known him for many years, and we wish him well in his daunting and essential task to turn things around. We will tell him that we value our relationship, admire his determination, shall continue to find ways to help Greece and cooperate with the Greek-American community, and know that he shares the concern about extremist forces in Greek society, and those who abet them – they must be confronted, not neglected.
How does Golden Dawn influence, if at all, the strategic cooperation between Greece and Israel?
Not at all. Golden Dawn represents a voice on the margin, far from the halls of decision-makers. Greece and Israel are neighbors. They live in a neighborhood, the eastern Mediterranean, where, apart from Cyprus, democracy as we know it is in short supply. In today’s world, shared values only become still more important as a link between nations. Greece can count on Israel, as Israel can count on Greece. And with the game-changing energy exploration in the region, the chances for trilateral cooperation among Greece, Cyprus, and Israel offer enormous potential for economic growth and development, as well as closer diplomatic and strategic ties. And on the people-to-people level, Greeks and Israelis have much in common, and here again there is much room for expansion in such spheres as tourism, research and development, academic cooperation, and cultural exchanges.