Mayors from around the world have flown into Athens to focus minds – and efforts – on combatting antisemitism amid a worrying resurgence of near daily hate crimes against Jews.
Local officials from 53 cities in 23 countries will convene in the Greek capital from Thursday with the aim of not only debating shared challenges and experiences but also finding “creative solutions” to counter the alarming rise in incidents of bigotry and hate globally.
The summit, to be opened by the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, and his New York City counterpart, Eric Adams, has been called the largest ever gathering of municipal leaders brought together to discuss antisemitism. Ahead of his arrival, Adams told the Guardian that the trip, one of his first outside the US as mayor, was “not by accident”.
“Combatting extremism, hatred, racism and antisemitism is amongst the most important roles that I have as mayor of New York City,” he said. “Antisemitism is on the rise in America and around the world, but it must not be ignored; it must be called out and confronted. And that’s why we stand together, in Athens – the birthplace of democracy – to unite against this hate.”
The two-day conference comes against a backdrop of what Bakoyannis described as an insidious spread of antisemitism globally. Last month New York police arrested two men in connection with threats to attack a synagogue in what was labelled “a developing threat to the Jewish community”.
Greece, where tens of thousands of Jews were dispatched to death camps by Hitler’s occupying forces during the second world war, has in more recent times experienced a surge in antisemitic sentiment fuelled by the now defunct neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Incidents of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries have been widespread; so, too, has the desecration of Holocaust memorials erected in honour of the 50,000 Jews rounded up in Thessaloniki before they perished in Auschwitz.
Within days of Golden Dawn’s unrepentant leaders being handed lengthy prisons terms at the end of a marathon trial, fanatics defaced monuments across the northern city. A lawyer representing the disgraced leaders at their recent appeals trial sent shudders through the courtroom when he unabashedly gave Nazi salutes.
“We have waged our battles against the dark forces of antisemitism and hatred,” Bakoyannis told the Guardian on Wednesday. “While we remain vigilant, we recognise that this is a grassroots battle that has to be waged at a street level, bottom up.”
The summit’s ultimate aim was to safeguard the cherished democratic values that participants from cities across Europe, the US and Canada shared, he said. “We want to raise awareness but also exchange ideas and learn best practices from each other to stop this insidious spread of antisemitism.”
It is also hoped that city-to-city partnerships will be sealed at the conference, according to the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), which has co-organised the event.
“We are delighted that this initiative is spreading around the world and more and more mayors are joining this challenge and want to help us combat and eradicate antisemitism in their localities,” said Robert Singer, chair of the Center for Jewish Impact and a member of the CAM board of governors. “Local leaders can and should be on the frontlines of combatting antisemitism, so they are irreplaceable in any strategy to fight this scourge.”