At first I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. A few tweets claiming that Evangelos Venizelos, the current Pasok leader and former Greek finance minister, said that the only names he’d seen on a controversial catalogue – the so-called Lagarde list – of about 2,000 Greeks with large bank accounts in a Swiss bank were “Jewish”.
But the tweets grew in number and a quick search of the Greek press proved that they were correct. I was shocked. The leader of the second largest party supporting Antonis Samaras’ coalition government had specifically singled out Jews when discussing a list of suspected tax evaders.
Venizelos was speaking to parliament’s institutions and transparency committee on October 11. In a five-hour testimony to MPs, the Pasok leader said that he had received the list on a flash drive from the then head of the Financial and Economic Crimes Unit (SDOE), Yianns Diotis, in August 2011.
Diotis had also printed out some pages from the data, continued Venizelos, who insists that he never opened the actual file.
He looked at the print outs and got the “unpleasant impression that three of the names were of Greek Jewish origin” (Ta Nea, 12 Oct 2012).
With the help of @IrateGreek, we checked the record. This is what Venizelos said:
What I meant about religion is that they were names that gave the impression that these were Greek citizens of Jewish origin. And this is something I commented on somewhat negatively. Why do I have here three names that happen to be names of Jewish origin? It made an impression on me and it wasn’t a pleasant impression.
Venizelos has yet to comment on why he felt the need to single out Jews when talking about tax evasion and financial crime. His official statement to the transparency committee makes no mention of Jews, or Jewish names for that matter.
As a citizen of Thessaloniki, he should know better. The city, once known as the “Mother of Israel”, lost 94% of its Jewish population in the Nazi Holocaust. For centuries, Jews formed the largest ethnoreligious group in the city.
One Greek Jewish citizen has written of his anger at Venizelos’ comments.
“Since the crisis began, I wondered who would be the first idiot to heap the blame on us, the Jews,” asked Jean-Jose Cohen, in an open letter to the Pasok leader.
“As a Greek citizen and voter, I would ask you not to transfer your personal political problems to us. For me, it’s clear what you’re trying to do. To distract the public from your own political problems by throwing the blame on us, the Jews.
“No, Mr Venizelos. The crisis is not our fault. Most people (based on the last election) believes that the blame for the crisis rests with your party which brought us the debts of Andreas Papandreou and the chaos of ‘Little’ George Papandreou.”
Cohen pointed out that had Greek ministers used the list in the same way as their French and German counterparts, who bought in billions to state coffers, there would be no need to cut pensions and salaries now.
He concluded by saying Venizelos should resign following the Lagarde list controversy and not try to “scapegoat the Jews”.
Already, obscurantist rightwing blogs have started to feed off Venizelos’ comments. In a post that is adorned with a disgusting antisemitic image, one blog, Hellas-Orthodoxy, demands that names of the three “Jews” be published, claiming there is a media conspiracy to keep them secret. It also absurdly claims that a Syriza MP, Zoe Konstantopoulou, was particularly angry over the remarks because she is of Jewish ancestry herself.
Accusing politicians on the left of being Jews and fake converts to Christianity is common among Greek rightwing circles.
UPDATE: This article was amended on 10 February 2015 to include the footage from the committee hearing where Venizelos made the remarks. @IrateGreek provided the video.