Another reason to love Greece's new finance minister

February 21, 2015

In Blog News

New Greek finance minister accused of anti-Semitism

In 2005, Yanis Varoufakis was suspended from Australian radio show for promoting ‘negative stereotypes about Jews’

BY RAPHAEL AHREN February 2, 2015, 5:32 pm 48

Quick Watch0:58  Greece’s new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives for a handover ceremony at the Finance Ministry in Athens, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (photo credit: Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo)

In 2005, Yanis Varoufakis was suspended from a radio show for what the station called the promotion of anti-Jewish stereotypes. Varoufakis, who at the time was an economics professor at the University of Athens, defended himself a few years later by stating that in his criticism of Israeli policies he was merely basing himself on reports in the Israeli daily Haaretz.
During his weekly broadcast at the Australian state-owned radio station SBS on August 29, 2005, Varoufakis had claimed that Israel used the blockade of Gaza as part of “a strategy for retaining a large part of the West Bank” and called the West Bank security fence a “concrete monster,” according to his blog.

“The fact that my comments were supported by reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was not deemed a sufficient defense against the charge of anti-Semitism,” he wrote in December 2010 about the incident.”

At the time, SBS said Varoufakis was a worthy commentator on economic issues but that he was no expert on Middle East politics and should therefore refrain from presenting one-sided analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The “particular anti-lsraeli line of his commentary could be reasonably held to have assisted in the promotion of negative stereotypes about Jews and more particularly Israeli Jews,” the radio station stated at the time.

Last week, German daily Die Welt published a report (German) to the effect that Varoufakis, and other members of the new Greek government, are radical anti-Zionists. According to the article, written by Thomas Weber, the director of the University of Aberdeen’s Center for Global Security and Governance, Varoufakis “connects with Israel first and foremost ‘sadism’ and ‘crime.’”

On Australian radio, Varoufakis was “full of empathy for suicide attacks against Israelis,” Weber alleged.

In August 2005, Varoufakis lamented many of Israel’s alleged crimes, concluding: “The rest of the world says nothing. And they just wonder when some of those Palestinians loads himself with dynamite and blows himself up.”

Varoufakis, a member of Greece’s new far-left government, did not reply to a Times of Israel query by the time this article was published.

In his 2010 blog entry, Varoufakis argued that people who leveled accusations of Jew-hatred at critics of Israel’s “subjugation, repression and expropriation of another people” were helping the real anti-Semites.

“Anti-Semites rejoice when criticism of Israel’s Wall in Palestine is equated with anti-Semitism,” he wrote. “For they are suddenly included in the wider community of fair minded people for whom the collective humiliation, mass harassment and disconnection of a whole people from their own backyards, not to mention the rest of the world, constitutes a hideous state of affairs in need of urgent redress.”

And yet, observers of Greek politics and attitudes toward Jerusalem indicated this week that Varoufakis’s views are no reason for concern.

“It sounds to me like typical left-wing criticism against Israel, so I am not surprised. Varoufakis likes to be controversial and loves to have media attention,” said Emmanuel Karagiannis, a Greece-born senior lecturer at the Department of Defense Studies at King’s College London. “But foreign policy issues are not really his area of expertise.”

A woman waves a Greek flag during a speech by Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the newly elected Syriza party outside Athens University Headquarters, Jan. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Fotis Plegas G.)
A woman waves a Greek flag during a speech by Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the newly elected Syriza party outside Athens University Headquarters, Jan. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Fotis Plegas G.)

Many members in Syriza, Greece’s new ruling party, have expressed extremely hostile opinions of Israel in the past, but “today they have been more moderate, except of [Sofia] Sakorafa, member of the European Parliament, who still is a warm supporter of Hamas,” said Victor Eliezer, a member of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and its former secretary-general.

Last week, the far-left Syriza list won Greece’s national parliamentary elections by a landslide. Israeli officials have watched Greece’s political shift closely, since the bilateral relationship had dramatically improved in recent years as Israel’s ties with Turkey have deteriorated.

On Friday, new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Israel’s ambassador in Greece, Irit Ben Abba, who handed him a letter of congratulations from his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It seems that [Tsipras] will continue and strengthen the bilateral relations with Greece, despite the decision to pass the recognition of Palestine through the Greek parliament, in a balanced way,” Eliezer said.

There is no set date yet for the vote and the matter is not seen as topping the new government’s list of priorities.