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Obama: We write in advance of your meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of Greece. We understand that your discussion will focus largely on economic challenges, trade relations, counterterrorism, and security concerns in the region, but we urge you to raise Greece’s struggle to combat hate crime and the failure of the Greek government to speak out consistently against intolerance and discrimination. The State Department’s 2012 country report on the human rights situation in Greece identified racist violence against foreigners, migrants, and Roma as “th e most important human rights problem" in the country. Human Rights First has documented a rise in racist attacks against refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants starting in May 2011. Hundreds of Asians and Africans were targeted for violence by extreme right-wing groups during a May 2011 wave of hate crime, and many more beatings, stabbings, and attacks on migrant-owned shops and places of congregation followed. Due to the Greek government’s inability to offer adequate and swift response to these acts, human rights and community groups have called on Greece to focus on protecting the victims and strengthening the mechanisms for combating hate crime, including through tailored legislation, police training, and working with civil society. While “newcomers” to Greece are living under a particular threat of violence, the hatred fueling the mobs responsible for these crimes is ages old. Antisemitic attitudes lie at the core of the populist xenophobia spread by ultranationalist supporters. The right-wing People’s Association—Golden Dawn—rejects neo-Nazi and fascist labels, but its representatives use Nazi symbols, have praised German Nazi leaders in the past, and have engaged in blatantly xenophobic rhetoric. All of this contributes to a hostile environment in which immigrants in Greece have been the overwhelming victims of a sharp rise in hate crime attacks. The Greek Jewish communities today number only some 5,000 people, yet they are being singled out, together with other minorities, by ultranationalist politicians and their supporters. Golden Dawn members hold 18 out of 300 seats (7 percent) in the Greek Parliament.
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The significant presence in local and national governments of a party that openly espouses racist and antisemitic views and policies is a disturbing dimension of antisemitism’s continuing presence and a formidable obstacle in the path of efforts to confront it. Although mainstream political leaders in Greece do not openly support the views of Golden Dawn, they have not been effective in marginalizing these intolerant political forces. We urge you to use the meeting with Prime Minister Samaras to encourage the Greek government and influential political leaders to speak out more forcefully to counteract the negative antisemitic and xenophobic discourse. Hate speech needs to be countered by clear public statements from a cross-section of political and civil society leaders, to condemn prejudice and hatred and to affirm the dignity and rights of all. These voices are needed to confront the growing wave of populist parties developing constituencies not only in Greece but across Europe. When political leaders from across party lines speak out against antisemitism and related forms of intolerance, it sends an important signal to communities. This is a practice that is sorely needed, but one that is insufficiently developed in Greece and many other European countries. The United States has been a strong and forthright voice in international fora on these issues, but it is critical that this message also be delivered directly in bilateral discussions with Greece. As the United States continues to debate the impact of bias and discrimination here at home, we should be prepared to challenge our allies, like Greece, to live up to their human rights commitments to punish bias-motivated violence, speak out to condemn hatred, and otherwise combat antisemitism and related intolerance. Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations. Sincerely,
Elisa Massimino President and CEO
CC Susan Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Pomper, NSS Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Karen Donfried, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Daniel Bennett Smith, U.S. Ambassador to Greece Mike Kozak, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism