ATHENS — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras asked his nationalist coalition partners for an explanation Wednesday after outrage erupted over his appointment of a minister notorious for anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks.
Dimitris Kammenos, a lawmaker from the nationalist Independent Greeks party who has been named junior infrastructure minister, sparked uproar earlier this year by comparing the EU to Auschwitz.
He is also accused of peddling a conspiracy theory claiming that 2,500 Jews employed in New York’s World Trade Centre “skipped work” on the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Kammenos is one of five members of the right-wing party named to the government by Tsipras, which was also the junior party in his last administration.
As outrage over the nomination mounted, Tsipras stepped in to phone Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos — the new defence minister — to ask him to verify the allegations against his namesake Dimitris Kammenos, a government source said.
Should the allegations prove to be true “his presence within the government would not be compatible with the values” of the cabinet, Tsipras was quoted by the source as saying.
But as unease over the appointment grew, Dimitris Kammenos issued a statement “denouncing racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism” and claiming that his social media accounts were managed by associates, not by himself, and that they have been repeatedly hacked.
“Most of (these postings) are distortions of the truth and have been carefully forged,” he claimed.
The 49-year-old lawmaker had mocked pro-EU demonstrators in June by posting a doctored picture of the gate to the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz on his Facebook page.
In the posting, the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) over the gate were replaced with “We Stay in Europe”, the rallying call of the pro-EU demonstrators.
The stunt caused outrage, with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece launching an immediate protest.
Kammenos, a reserve special forces captain and former lobbyist, later tweeted by way of apology: “The comparison may have been unfortunate but there is an economic holocaust underway in my country!”
The government’s top European deputy, Dimitris Papadimoulis, on Wednesday said he was “not at all happy” with having Kammenos in the cabinet given his “extreme and racist views”.
Popular writer and former left-wing lawmaker Petros Tatsopoulos had earlier said he was “ashamed” to hear of the appointment.
In June, the To Vima weekly noted that Kammenos had also mocked the Athens gay pride parade as “pathetic”.
The Independent Greeks party helped Tsipras form a government in January when he fell short of an absolute parliamentary majority.
They returned to the coalition after Sunday’s election that saw Tsipras re-elected but with fewer lawmakers.
Kammenos’s Twitter page was not operational Wednesday. A photo posted on his personal website shows him standing to attention before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens, Greece’s most revered military monument.