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A Greek-Jewish perspective on combatting hatred in Australia

A proud Greek-Jewish Australian, and former Victorian government minister urges harnessing Australia's successul multicultural values to combat rising antisemitism.
Philip Dalidakis
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A coin with a man in a helmet and a coin with a 7 branch candelabra

An ancient Greek coin (left) and a coin from ancient Israel

Published: 17 June 2024

Last updated: 14 June 2024

As an Australian of Greek and Jewish heritage, I have long been aware of the parallels between Greek and Jewish histories, cultures, and philosophies that reach back into the ancient world. Today, as war rages in Gaza and as renewed conflict threatens in the Eastern Mediterranean, I am conscious of the long relationship between our two peoples and the importance of strengthening that relationship in the modern world.

Historical parallels: Greek-Jewish syncretism

The Greeks and the Jews have a long-shared history. We are syncretic cultures. Our worlds have melded for at least 2500 years. Our civilisations and cultures are watersheds in launching universal philosophical, legal, and political narratives. We argue and debate. We seek the whole wisdom, life, and peace. Also, we fight for survival, for ethnos, and nation.

Greek and Hebrew remain unchanged for almost 2,500 years.

Philo, the Greek Jewish philosopher, translated the Torah and Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek and imbued Jewish thought with Hellenistic values. Greeks were the only non-Jews to attend the Synagogue, a Greek word. Arguments and debates guide us both as people.

Greeks and the Jews traded with each other and influenced each other’s ideas. Zionism may be considered a modern-day concept, part of 19th-century nation-building. However, the notion of a Jewish homeland and Hellas has existed for thousands of years.

Moreover, Zionism, like Hellenism, in the modern context of ideas, sparked two Diaspora nations. And Zionism, like Hellenism, has its left, centre and right. Greece’s revolution in 1821 was a key influence for Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism.

The late historian, Shlomo Avineri, in his work on Herzl, writes it seemed ‘obvious that the Greeks had a right to shake off Turkish rule and gain independence, but the establishment, in the 1820s, of the small Greek state in the south-east Balkans did not solve the Greek national problem.’

Like Jews, Greek speakers remained in huge numbers in Asia Minor and the Middle East, across what the West saw as the Orient and it was the massacre and expulsion of two million Greeks from what is now Turkey in 1922 that saw them go ‘home’ to a new Greece.

It was a similar experience for the Jews who sought safety after the Holocaust, the one million plus Jews who were expelled from Arab lands in 1948-1952, 250,000 expelled from Iran in 1975, 330,000 plus from Russia in 1990-1991 and 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in 1991. They all went home, Israel, formerly created after UN resolution 181 on 29 November 1947. A newly created state of an old and ancient homeland dating back 2500 years.

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, as anti-Hellenism would be anti-Greek

To suggest that Zionism is an innate form of colonialism is akin to saying Hellenism is colonialism. Imagine if people said, “I am anti-Hellene, but not anti-Greek” How does that ring out? One can be anti-Likud, anti-New Democracy – but anti-Zionist – anti the establishment of a Jewish homeland based on indigeneity? The weaponization of Zionism is something that all of us must stand oppose.

It is a new form of racism, and the overwhelming number of people who subscribe to it, do so to cloak, dress up, antisemitism as something more palatable for public consumption, but don’t be fooled, it is as insidious as ever. Greeks and Jews know what it’s like to have lived under foreign occupations in Eastern and Western states, scattered as two ancient diasporas. Greeks and Jews have carried their ethnos on their shoulders in almost everyone else’s nations.

The French Revolution and the European Enlightenment unleashed new ideas of humanism, liberalism, rights, and a desire to shake off imperialism and occupation, be it by the Austrian Hungarian Empire or the Ottomans. It was natural that this new spirit, often sparked by the Greek and Jewish diaspora in London, Paris, Odessa, and Vienna, galvanised Greeks, and the Jews in search of their nations on land never ceded by them –Greece and Israel.

Greek nationalism reclaimed Hellenism – the belief that Hellenes should reclaim their independence in their ancient homeland, and the Jewish nation-building project was called Zionism – after Mount Zion in Jerusalem – the belief that the Jews should reclaim their independence in their ancient homeland. The parallels between these two movements were always evident.

Greek and Israeli relations have not always run smoothly, but they are almost identical as nations in their formation as diaspora projects and in attitude.

The great nation builder, Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, ensured Greece was one the first countries to welcome the Balfour Declaration of 1916. Greece voted against the UN resolution supporting the establishment of a Jewish state in Mandate Palestine, hoping to prevent the expulsion of the prominent Greek community in Egypt (which happened anyway).

During the Nazi invasion of Greece in World War II, those Greek Jews who were not exterminated in the Nazi death camps, like almost 90 per cent of Thessaloniki’s Sephardim, were protected by the Greek Orthodox Church. Many Romaniots, ancient Greek Jews, fought in the Resistance against the Nazis.

Many being socialists and following the Civil War and successive right-wing governments of Greece, did not come out as Jews or left, and many have not returned.

Once Israeli independence was established, Greece and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1949. Relations between Greece and Israel were frequently troubled in the following decades, particularly during the tenure of Andreas Papandreou as a Greek who led the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party into victory in the 1980s.

However, Greek Israeli relations have dramatically improved in recent years as Greece, under the leadership of both socialist Syriza’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras (surprisingly) and the current Greek New Democracy, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have realised the cultural proximity of both peoples and their position geopolitically in the South-East Mediterranean that makes them natural allies.

Greece has taken a consistent position (similarly to Australia) on the current conflict in Gaza, which began with the horrendous terror attack on Israel on 7 October last year. Prime Minister Mitsotakis visited Israel two weeks after the attack.

Mitsotakis told Israelis:

“From the first moment, Greece defended and supported Israel’s right to self-defence, according to international law.

“We made an obvious distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. We will continue to support you and hope that whatever happens must happen without great humanitarian cost. You can count on our support, our help.”

This position by Greece is broadly consistent with Australia’s, and one that I agree with in principle. I have sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people. However, I have doubts that either a peace settlement in Gaza or progress towards a Palestinian state is possible until Hamas, and other Islamist organisations, are removed from power, and influence and are incapable to wage a war of terrorism against Israel.

I think both the Australian and Greek governments understand this despite the diplomatic language they deploy in public.

Australia’s multicultural fabric: unity against hatred

Sadly, however, a loud section of opinion in Australia does not seem to grasp this fact. Increasingly violent antisemitic incidents grow each day, and we now have constant reports of students chanting “from the river to the sea” from primary school age right through to high school and university.

Places of learning have become incubators of new ideologues, bereft of historical knowledge and deliberately obtuse to the dangers of Jew hatred, and what it means to society and what it says about the society where it occurs.

This hatred, this bigotry, has been encouraged by rank political opportunism, especially by Greens MPs, and supported by some sections of the media with little intellectual rigour. Whilst some may think they are helping the Palestinian cause – I remain sceptical over some motives – they are, in fact, playing into the hands of antisemites, as they stir up trouble in our multicultural community and the conflict has put pressure on Australian communities.

Whatever one’s views, many of the actions, the social media war, and the often barely disguised antisemitism have nothing to do with calls for harmony, peace, or social cohesion. Many of the rallies and protests have in fact been taken over by far-left groups, Greens, socialist alternative, anarchists, and professional antagonists all to create division, and a sense of moral implosion.

In Australia and Greece, public opinion supports progress toward a Palestinian state but opposes demands for the destruction of Israel and hates the current revival of antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.

I am proud of both my Greek and Jewish heritages and happy to live in a country where Greeks and Jews have flourished and live in peace with their Muslim peers. My pro-Israeli and pro-Greece views are no secret. Israel and Greece are democratic multicultural, multi-faith societies, born from revolution and wars with neighbours. Both have left, centre and right, and always competing and antagonistic views of culture, faith, and patriotism. However, neither state will allow the denial of its existence based on fabrications.

Hellenic and Jewish peoples have never ceded their ancient homelands nor their right to return as diaspora. Feelings are running high over the situation in the Middle East, and I have many friends across all the affected communities, and none of us want to see any further escalation of the conflict in Australia.

I would be lying though, if I didn’t have one eye on my right of return to either Greece or Israel if things deteriorated here at home, and up until six months ago, I would never have thought that. That isn’t something that should sit well with anybody.

Philip Dalidakis’ father was born in Greece and his mother is Jewish. His maternal grandparents escaped from Germany to Shanghai in 1939. Dalidakis was Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade in the Victorian Government.

This article was originally published in Neo Kosmos

About the author

Philip Dalidakis

Philip Dalidakis was a Minister in the Andrews ALP government in Victoria and MP representing the Southern Metropolitan region (2014-19).


  • Avatar of Peter Mousaferiadis

    Peter Mousaferiadis29 June at 02:53 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this brilliantly articulated article. I share your sentiment and concerns about the downward spiral which in many ways has been fuelled by the rise and obsession with identity politics and compelled by views “bereft of history”.

    While we may not all be in a position to influence change on an institutional level, one thing that we can all do is mix with people who are not like us. To stop living in our bubbles.

    In the past decade, we have witnessed the meteoric rise of identity politics, the polarisation of public discourse, the dehumanisation of segments of society and the breakdown of a vision of inclusivity.

    With each one of our lives intersecting with other people who are not like us, we might just begin to break down barriers and build inseparable bonds.

    The gravity of your last paragraph speaks volumes

    “I would be lying though, if I didn’t have one eye on my right of return to either Greece or Israel if things deteriorated here at home, and up until six months ago, I would never have thought that. That isn’t something that should sit well with anybody”.

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