Vandals broke into the Jewish cemetery in Thessaloniki, Greece, and desecrated several headstones there, the head of the local Jewish community said Friday.

According to David Saltiel, who was quoted by Walla News, the unknown assailants cut through the cemetery fence, smashed various ornaments and vases, and knocked down headstones and signage.

Saltiel said that the police had opened an investigation into the incident, which comes on the heels of this week’s election to the European Parliament of three members of a Greek neo-Nazi party.

The attack also follows the release of the Anti-Defamation League’s global anti-Semitism survey earlier this month, in which Greece captured the ignominious title of most anti-Semitic country in Europe.

With 69 percent of Greeks espousing anti-Semitic views, according to the survey, Greece was on par with Saudi Arabia, more anti-Semitic than Iran (56 percent) and nearly twice as anti-Semitic as Europe’s second-most anti-Semitic country, France (37 percent).

On its surface, the poll suggested that anti-Semitism is running rampant in Greece.

Much of the blame goes to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has found fertile ground for its extreme-right ideology in the ruins of Greece’s economic crisis.

But both the ADL and Greece’s small Jewish community caution that the reality is more nuanced than the poll numbers suggest.

“There is a danger of sensationalizing it, a danger of overplaying the psychological impact of the poll,” Michael Salberg, ADL’s director of international affairs, told JTA. “There needs to be real hard internal look at the data and examining what are the forces at play.”

For their part, Greek Jewish leaders took pains to point out that despite widespread bigotry, Greece hasn’t seen the sort of anti-Jewish violence that has cropped up in some other European countries, such as France.

“Despite the poll showing high levels of anti-Semitism, it must be noted that in Greece over the last four years we have not had any anti-Semitic violence against people or Jewish institutions,” said Victor Eliezer, the secretary general of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.

Greece's New Democracy Party head Antonis Samaras with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem, December 2011 (photo credit: GPO/Flash90)

Greece’s New Democracy Party head Antonis Samaras with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem, December 2011 (photo credit: GPO/Flash90)

“This is not a poll about violence, but rather a survey on stereotypes, and yes, there are a lot of stereotypes among the Greek public,” he said.

The poll gauged anti-Semitism based on whether respondents agreed with a majority of 11 statements on Jewish power, loyalty, money and behavior that the ADL says suggest bias. They include such statements as Jews talk too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust; Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries they live in; Jews think they are better than other people; Jews have too much power in the business world; and Jews have too much control over global affairs.

Critics have suggested that the survey is deeply flawed because the statements are not fair indicators of real anti-Jewish bias.

Of the 579 Greeks polled, 85 percent said Jews had too much power in the business world, 82 percent said Jews have too much power in the financial markets and 74 percent said Jews have too much influence over global affairs. The margin of error for Greece was plus or minus 4.4 percent.

In Greece, anti-Semitic viewpoints are aired frequently, particularly the notions that Jews control the global economy and politics. In 2012, when the Golden Dawn’s spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris read in Parliament from the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the reading drew no condemnation from the other lawmakers present.

Nor was there public condemnation when Golden Dawn slammed the recent visit by the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, as a trip to ensure further “Jewish influence over Greek political issues” and safeguard the interests of “international loan sharks.”

Golden Dawn hasn’t been alone in expressing such sentiments.

Earlier this year, the left-wing Syriza party’s candidate for regional governor accused Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of heading a Jewish conspiracy to visit “a new Hanukkah against the Greeks.”

Syriza reluctantly dropped the candidate, Theodoros Karypidis.

At the heart of Karypidis’ theory was a move last year by Samaras to shut the allegedly corrupt Hellenic Broadcasting Authority and replace it with New Hellenic Radio and Television, known by its Greek acronym NERIT. According to Karypidis, NERIT is derived from the Hebrew word for candle, “ner,” which he links to Hanukkah.

JTA contributed to this report.