Although no violent anti-Semitic incidents were recorded, an activist of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova was arrested in connection with a bomb planted in downtown Rome in November 1999. While the last few years have been characterized by a low level of anti-Semitic violence, there has been a creeping process of legitimizing anti-Jewish stereotypes in Italy, provoked by public discourse over Jewish issues. The attempt to commemorate the suffering of other persecuted groups testifies to this trend.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Some 30,000 Jews live in Italy out of a total population of 57 million. The largest communities are in Rome (15,000) and Milan (10,000) and there are smaller communities in Turin, Florence, Livorno, Trieste, Genoa and several other cities.
Jews have lived in Italy for over two thousand years and have developed unique customs and traditions. Some 7,750 Italian Jews out of the pre-war community of 45,000 perished in the Holocaust and many other Jews left the country. The veteran community has been strengthened in recent decades by Libyan and Persian immigrants.
The Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI) is the roof organization of Italian Jewry. In addition to providing religious, cultural and educational services, it represents the community in official matters. Several international Jewish organizations have affiliates in Italy. There are Jewish schools in the main communities. The Jews of Rome publish a monthly journal, Shalom, and the Milan community puts out Bolletino.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS
There are no Italian parties or movements with openly racist programs. However, some radical right-wing elements promote ethnic separation. Demanding the exclusion of immigrants from poorer countries (primarily North Africa and Eastern Europe), they stress the threat of unemployment, increased crime and the undermining of Italy’s Catholic culture.
The Lega Nord per l’indipendenza della Padania (Northern League for Padanian Independence -- LN), led by Umberto Bossi, is concentrated mainly in the Lombardia, Veneto, Piemonte and Liguria regions of northern Italy. The league, which sees itself as a movement, not a party, leads the anti-immigration and anti-Roma struggle. Officially, it calls for stricter measures against illegal immigration and “irregular” immigrants (immigrants whose permits have expired), but the language of its slogans is inflammatory. In some areas, the Guardia Nazionale Padana (National Padanian Guard -- GNP), composed of volunteers wearing green shirts, is invited by citizens’ groups or by mayors elected from LN lists to organize patrols “to fight petty-crime.” In May 1999, 14 GNP members were tried in Milan for having formed a paramilitary organization.
In the June 1999 elections to the European Parliament the LN obtained only 4.5 percent of the vote compared with 10.1 percent in 1996. It recovered slightly in the 2000 regional elections, gaining 5.7 percent of the overall vote (15.5 percent and 12 percent in Lombardia and Liguria, respectively). The LN currently has 47 deputies and 18 senators in the Italian parliament, and three representatives in the European Parliament.
After its losses in the June 1999 European elections, the LN temporarily renounced its pursuit of Padanian secession. This was also a condition laid down in its agreements with the center-right coalition Polo delle Libertà prior to the April 2000 regional administrative elections. The European election debacle was followed by the resignation or expulsion from the movement of a small group of parliamentary members, including former Milan mayor Marco Formentini, who had disagreed with Bossi, inter alia, over his authoritarian leadership.
In May 1999, the LN, supported by three radical right-wing movements based mainly in central and southern Italy -- Forza Nuova, Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore and Fronte Nazionale -- led a campaign to petition for a referendum to repeal the 1998 Turco-Napolitano immigration law, which regulates immigration and the status of foreigners. Some 700,000 signatures were collected. During a campaign meeting in February 1999 in Cremona, Bossi spoke of “a global American project… to destroy the idea of Europe defending its own interests, through the Jewish banker world economy and a multi-racial society.” The text also appeared in the movement’s organ Padania (see below). In March 2000, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia and Polo delle Libertà, and LN leader Bossi, presented a draft bill aimed at toughening Italy’s immigration law.
Racist remarks were made by several LN members. In February 2000, Treviso’s mayor Giancarlo Gentilini was acquitted of inciting racial hatred when he stated during a press conference in October 1999: “Immigrants from outside the Community? Let’s dress them like hares for hunt training.” During an interview in March 1999, Gentilini had proposed solving the immigration problem by “loading all undesirables on a boat, shipping them out to the Mediterranean Sea… and leaving them to their fate.”
La Padania, the LN organ, constantly warns of the immigrant threat and of the danger posed to Italy’s Catholic culture by Islam. According to official statistics, of the 1.5 million immigrants (including 200-300,000 “irregulars”) residing in Italy in 1999, 35 percent were Muslim. The paper also defended Austrian FPÖ leader Jörg Haider and pointed out similarities between the two parties. Since the electoral agreements with the Polo delle Libertà, however, Bossi has minimized this theme, as well as issues relating to Jews.
The anti-immigration, anti-US Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore (Social Movement-Tricolor Flame -- MS-FT), led by former European Parliament member Pino Rauti, has some 20,000 members and 105 branches throughout Italy. The party’s organ is the nationalist populist Linea. In the 1999 elections to the European Parliament the party obtained almost half a million votes (1.4 percent nationwide).
In the 2000 regional elections MS-FT forged a coalition agreement with Polo delle Libertà in some southern regions, where it obtained an average of one percent of the vote. Pino Rauti, who ran for mayor in Venice, won 1.1 percent.
Officially, anti-Semitism is absent from the party line, but anti-Jewish remarks are made on the MS-FT website and chatroom. In February 1999 Rauti termed the visit by AN leader Gianfranco Fini to Auschwitz (see ASW 1998/9) “defeatist revisionism.”
The nationalist populist Movimento Sociale Europeo (European Social Movement -- MSE) is one of numerous factions that split from the MS-FT. Led by European Parliament member Roberto Bigliardo (elected on the MS-FT list), the party’s support is found mainly in central-southern Italy. The trial of Bigliardo’s second-in- command, Chieti’s mayor Nicola Cucullo (also originally from MS-FT), was taking place in Milan during 2000. Cucullo was charged with racism after he blamed Hitler in a January 1994 interview, “for not having fried all the Jews.” French FN leader Le Pen participated in the January 2000 MSE founding congress.
The MSE’s ideology is derived from L’Uomo Libero (see below) and from the new 12-page daily Rinascita, which circulates in Lazio and Lombardia. Like its extremist right-wing counterparts, Rinascita is anti-immigrant, anti-globalist and anti-Zionist.
Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance -- AN), led by Gianfranco Fini, had a membership of 485,657 in 11,539 branches in 1998. It had 89 deputies and 41 senators in the Italian parliament and nine Euro-Parliament members. Its electorate is mainly in the central-southern regions, but it also competes in the north with the LN, with which it both shares and opposes some views, although expressed in more moderate tones.
Despite Fini’s success in reforming the party image, including the suppression of anti-Jewish comments in public and in the party organ Il Secolo d’Italia, there remain contradictions within the party, mainly in regard to its fascist past. The Salo Republic (1943-45) is remembered with nostalgia, ideologues such as Julius Evola, known for their anti-Semitism, remain popular, andneo-fascist symbols are used at demonstrations. For example, on 11 March 2000 there were Celtic crosses, Roman salutes and Austrian flags “in defense of Austrian national sovereignty” at a 20,000-strong AN procession which opened the party’s electoral campaign in Rome.
A rare anti-Semitic manifestation was a March 1999 leaflet produced by the AN’s Julius Evola Club in Sestu (Cagliari). The leaflet quoted alleged Talmudic passages as proof that Jews compared Gentiles to beasts. In response to protests, the local AN president claimed that the references were intended to be “neither racist, nor anti-democratic nor anti-Jewish.”
The AN suffered a 5 percent loss in the 1999 elections to the European Parliament, obtaining only 10.3 percent of the vote. It recovered somewhat in the April regional elections, gaining 12.8 percent nationwide (well over 20 percent in Rome and Lazio).
Forza Nuova (New Power), led by fugitives from justice Roberto Fiore and Massimo Morsello, is considered to be the most radical of Italy’s extreme right groups. It claims about 2,500 members, among them 1,000 militants, in 35 cells throughout Italy, especially in Puglia, Lazio and Lombardia. Its periodical Foglio di Lotta, distributed in 20,000 copies, also appears on the Internet. The movement’s activists include Sergio and Marzio Gozzoli, who write for L’Uomo Libero, as well as Maurizio Bonacci, leader of the banned Movimento Politico Occidentale.The soccer stadium is fertile recruiting ground for members and supporters.
The movement, which has a sound economic basis deriving from Fiore’s and Morsello’s business interests in London (where they live in exile), is continually expanding. Aiming to fuse right-wing radicalism with traditionalist Catholicism, it seeks, inter alia, the repeal of the Scelba law (against the reconstitution of fascist parties) and of the anti-discrimination Mancino law. Although officially only anti-Zionist, its propaganda often includes anti-Jewish messages.
According to the Spanish weekly Tiempo, Fiore has been active in efforts to have the FPÖ replace the French FN as leader of the extreme right in the European Parliament. MS-FT was reportedly a financial backer of this campaign. In April 1999 Fiore was tried in absentia in Rome for financing the Hammerskin movement, 24 members of which were also charged with inciting racial hatred (see ASW 1998/9). As of mid-2000, the verdict was still pending.
Other radical right groups include Fronte Nazionale, led by former MS-FT member Adriano Tilgher, which since early 2000 has been attempting, together with the MS-FT and other extremists, to form a party that will serve as a more extreme alternative to the AN; and the anti-Zionist Movimento Fascismo e Libertà (Fascism and Freedom Movement -- MFL), founded in Milan in 1991 by Giorgio Pisanò, senator in the old Movimento Sociale Italiano and led by Giuseppe Martorana. MFL has revived recently after several years of relative inactivity during which it faced legal proceedings for having re-formed a dissolved fascist party. In October 1999 it held its 2nd national congress in Trieste. In March 2000 it put up posters praising Haider in the streets of Milan and other Italian cities, and in April it organized a congress on the theme “Worldwide Culture and Globalization -- Zionist Weapons.”
ANTI-SEMITIC AND RACIST ACTIVITY
Although no violent anti-Semitic incidents were recorded, it should be noted thatan “anti-Zionist movement” claimed responsibility for planting two bombs in downtown Rome in November 1999. One exploded outside the Museum of Liberation, commemorating the resistance to the Nazi occupation in Rome. The second was defused near the parliament, but apparently a nearby cinema which was screening a documentary about Adolf Eichmann was the intended target. The perpetrator of the second incident, a militant of Forza Nuova, was arrested.
Insults and Propaganda
The last few years have been characterized by a low level of anti-Semitic violence; nevertheless, a creeping process of legitimization of anti-Jewish stereotypes in Italy has been noted. The use of the terms “rabbi” or “Jew” as synonyms for avarice has become more common and anti-Jewish jokes have been overheard in bars, trains and on school trips. It seems that recent public discourse on Jewish issues, such as changes in Vatican policy, Jewish wartime assets, commemoration of the Holocaust (see below), has provoked old Jewish stereotypes. Racist chants and fascist anthems and symbols are particularly common among sports fans, who have become progressively more politicized. On 28 November, for example, Lazio soccer fans brandished banners with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans. The junior Maccabi soccer team has ceased competing against outside teams because of the continuous insults the players were subjected to from the stands. The police are investigating the connection between soccer supporters and the banned Movimento Politico Occidentale.
Openly anti-Semitic statements by extremist elements are more common in oral than in written propaganda, during concerts and interviews, for example. Usually, anti-Semitic opinions are camouflaged by anti-Zionism, probably to avoid prosecution under the Mancino law,, but sometimes outright references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are heard. For example, in June 1999, during a “concert for Europe” organized by Forza Nuova, Roberto Fiore warned of the danger to Italy of a “Masonic-Jewish lobby.”
Vehemently anti-Semitic and racist texts also appear on the web pages of radical groups, especially their chat forums. Onore e Fedelta was closed by its server GeoCities for displaying hate propaganda. The views of participants in the NR chatroom, a Movimento Politico Occidentale site uniting the old skinhead groups, revealed Nazism, fascism and traditional Catholic anti-Semitism.
The fascist Avanguardia, “the militant monthly of the national popular community,” and the low-circulation monthly Sentinella d’Italia are both openly anti-Semitic and Holocaust denying. Other extreme right-wing periodicals whose anti-Semitism is more veiled include the bi-annual L’Uomo Libero, which in 1999 attacked globalization, and the nationalist Bolshevik Orion, the voice of Sinergie Europee -- Italia.
Catholic anti-Semitism is extremely rare, apparently reflecting the current pontifical and ecclesiastical policy of repudiating past anti-Judaic teachings. Nevertheless, remnants of anti-Semitism remain, manifested, for example, in the commentaries on the Gospels distributed in the churches as guides to the faithful.
At a mass in Rome in March, marking 2000 years of Christianity, Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness on behalf of Christians for sins they committed over the centuries. The re-examination of Church conscience is contained in a 92-page document, “Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past,” prepared by 30 scholars over a period of three years. In an unprecedented step, he also requested forgiveness from the Jewish people, but was criticized by some Jewish groupsfor failing to mention the Holocaust or the Church’s responsibility in establishing the basis for the development of anti-Semitism within Christian communities. Traditionalist Catholic periodicals, on the other hand, suggested that the Jews should, in turn, ask the Christians forgiveness for their anti-Christian acts.
Two Catholic periodicals, the weekly Risveglio 2000 (October) of the Ravenna dioceses and the national conservative daily Il Giornale (August), published articles charging Jews with ritual murder. Integralist (rejecting the 1965 Vatican Council II reforms) or fundamentalist publications with a consistently anti-Semitic line include Ex Novo. Semestrale di attualità religiosa e politica (Milan), Chiesa Viva (published in Brescia by the Operaie di Maria Immacolata and Editrice Civiltà) and Sodalitium (bimonthly periodical of the Istituto Mater Bonii Consilii). Don Curzio Nitoglia, a frequent contributor to the latter, campaigned for the promotion of Mario Spadaro’s book Dal caso Priebke al nazi-gold: Storie d’ingiustizia e di quattrini (From the Priebke Case to Nazi Gold: Stories of Injustice and Money), published in 1999 by the extreme right publisher Il Settimo Sigillo. It criticizes Erich Priebke’s trial and “persecution,” seeing them as part of a vast scheme of the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to profit at Germany’s expense and “revitalize” both the myth of resistance against the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust memory.
In the past year, anti-Jewish references in the integralist anti-Semitic La Tradizione Cattolica, the official weekly of the Distretto Italiano della Fraternità Sacerdotale San Pio X, published by the Priorato Madonna di Loreto (founded by Mons. Marcel Lefebvre -- see previous reports), were replaced by anti-Islamic arguments.
Besides these periodicals, Holywar. Tradizione cattolica (Holywar: Catholic Tradition), a webpage linked to the notorious Norwegian Holywar site, should be mentioned. The Italian site contains up to 35 articles, similar to those found in Sodalitium, with titles such as “Sermons Against the Jews by St. John Chrysostom,” “Abortion, The Only Holocaust in History” and “Judaism Uncovered: Summary of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The small, traditionalist Militia Christi in Rome, which is militantly anti-Zionist, but claims to be not anti-Semitic, attracts clerics and lay people of the extreme right. In October 1999 it distributed a leaflet entitled “October 16, 1943: Pius XII Defender of the Jews, Zionism Executioner of Its Own People.” The text ended: “Against the worldwide, anti-Christian and racist Zionist project. In memory of the Roman Jews deported [on that date] and killed. Against any anti-Semitism.”
The Italian version of Sweden’s Radio Islam website was expanded to include texts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist articles denying the Holocaust.
Numerous surveys conducted by various institutes in 1999 showed a growing preoccupation with and rejection of immigrants from poor countries. Anti-immigrant feeling is fueled by alleged immigrant involvement in crimes such as drug dealing, prostitution, burglaries and robberies. However, according to a study (published by the national statistic agency CENSIS in February 2000), the cities with the highest crime rate are not those with the most immigrants.
Numerous protests took place in several cities against Roma camps and sometimes violence erupted, for example in Rho (near Milan) and in Vicenza. The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) criticized Italy in its annual report for its treatment of Roma, who, it claims, are cut off politically, economically and culturally from mainstream society.
ATTITUDES TOWARD THE HOLOCAUST AND THE NAZI ERA
The Holocaust is becoming part of the official collective memory of Italy. This is reflected in numerous media articles on the Holocaust and educational initiatives in schools. The findings of a survey conducted among readers by Corriere della Sera, the largest national newspaper, testify to this trend. The paper proposed sending to schools, free-of-charge, the well-known photo of a child in the Warsaw Ghetto with his hands raised. In the first five days it received almost 1,000 supportive letters, and over 400 schools requested the photo. Further, readers chose the Holocaust as the most significant event of the twentieth century. In a literary survey for the same paper, the autobiographical If This Is a Man by Primo Levi, about life in a concentration camp, was selected as the most significant novel of the century.
On the other hand, the answers to a questionnaire put to 200 history students at Torino University revealed not only ignorance but the adoption of anti-Jewish stereotypes. More than half of the students had visited concentration camps in the past. Nonetheless, they had only a vague knowledge of the historical connection. Moreover, a large majority indicated the alleged excessive economic and political power of German Jews, their practice of usury, greed and ghetto mentality as causes for the Holocaust. Moreover, the claim of overexposure of Holocaust and Jewish issues is repeated in readers’ letters to the editor, as well as in private discussions.
At the state level, the Chamber of Deputies unanimously approved a bill to institute a Holocaust remembrance day on 27 January, the date Auschwitz was liberated. The bill must now be passed by the Senate. However, there have been attempts by elements of the conservative right, such as the AN and Forza Italia (of Berlusconi), to extend the text to include other forms of persecution, such as Stalin’s gulags. Earlier, a local initiative to establish 16 October as Holocaust Remembrance Day was endorsed unanimously by Milan’s Municipal Council.
In regard to Holocaust denial, a translation of Arthur Butz’s “Context and Perspective in the ‘Holocaust’ Controversy” (Journal of Historical Review 1 [Winter 1982-83]), was re-issued by the left-wing publishing house Graphos (Genoa).