Italy Faces Up to the Evil Within

A new Italian report on anti-Semitism dares to tell the truth.

There is no question that anti-Semitism in Europe has been on the rise during the last few years.  The European left, for a range of reasons, has gotten into the habit of viewing Israel, and by extension all Jews, as the foremost challenge to peace on earth and goodwill toward men.  As Europe's Islamic communities have expanded, moreover, and their members grown less and less shy about expressing – and acting upon – their opinions, the articulation of anti-Semitic sentiments and the commission of anti-Semitic acts by young Muslim men has increased accordingly.

While all this has been going on, a number of European governments have chosen to look the other way.  Many political leaders in Europe, indeed, have fueled anti-Semitism by word and deed.  The Italian government, however, has been an exception.

It was in October 2009 that two committees of the Italian Parliament voted to commission an in-depth study of anti-Semitism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.  They established a sub-committee to perform the inquiry, and put the Jewish writer and parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein (whom I profiled here recently) in charge.  Now the sub-committee's report has been released, and its findings are well worth attending to.

The report acknowledges “a strong resurgence of anti-Semitism in European societies” in recent years – a new kind of anti-Semitism that is “less overtly racist, and therefore more subtle and insidious,” than previous varieties, and that is being spread especially through online social networks.  As a consequence of this new brand of anti-Semitism, “Jewish communities in various Western countries have had to deal for the first time with a new atmosphere of insecurity” and “a new cultural climate.”  Though Italy is nowhere near as severely plagued with anti-Semitism as many other European countries, recent years have nonetheless seen a rise in anti-Semitism on the Italian far left, which, like its counterparts elsewhere in the West, has come to view Israel as “a state based on apartheid against the Palestinians,” takes the view that “the victims of the past have become today's executioners,” and relativizes the Shoah by essentially equating it to what is routinely, and absurdly, depicted as a “Palestinian Holocaust.”

The report offers its share of sobering statistics.  It references a 2010 study showing a steady rise in Italian anti-Semitism between 2001 and 2009, and another study indicating that “44 percent of Italians express attitudes and opinions in some way hostile to Jews and 12 percent are fully-fledged anti-Semites.”  Fully 22% of Italians between the ages of 18 and 29 were hostile to Jews, and the figure was even higher among males in northern Italy.  One-fourth of Italians surveyed agreed with the statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”  (In other European countries the figure was even higher: 35% in Germany and Britain, 41% in the Netherlands, 48% in Portugal, and no less than 55% in Poland.)  One-third of Italians regard Jews as “not very nice,” and one-fourth don't consider them “fully Italian.”  Among Italians between the ages of 18 and 34, 22% were anti-Semitic, even though 71% of them “had never had any direct contact with Jews.”  Of Italians in this age group, 51% balked at the idea of their daughter being in a relationship with a Jew, 38% didn't want a Jewish boss, and 25% didn't care for the idea of having Jewish neighbors.

The Italian sub-committee interviewed a long line of experts.  Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini spoke of “a new insidious form of anti-Semitism...based on apathy and uncritical acquiescence to claims asserting Jewish 'control' over politics, the media and the economy.”  Renzo Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, suggested that anti-Semitism “is being fuelled today by anti-Israeli arguments, encouraged by various media that are prejudiced against the Jewish State and hostile to it.”  And Rabbi Benedetto Carucci of the Rome Jewish School expressed concern “that events focusing solely on remembrance of the Shoah might create the impression that Judaism was all about extermination.”

Admirably, the role of European Muslims was not obscured (as is so often the case): “Incidents of anti-Semitic intolerance are spreading in the Islamic communities in Europe, with murders and physical attacks on Jews....In Sweden, which has one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe, the Jewish communities spend 25 per cent of their funds on security measures.” Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Rome Jewish Community, noted “the close connection which exists between certain Muslim organisations and neo-Nazi groups and which underpins attacks on Jewish communities, synagogues, schools and cemeteries and also underlies the boycotts of sports events.”  Professor Dina Porat, director of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, spoke to the sub-committee about the emergence in Europe in recent years of “an Islamist form of anti-Semitism” that is marked “by a tendency to attack Jewish communities outside Israel because of their association with that country.”  And Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Steering Committee of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) “emphasised the risks of an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency which might have dangerous repercussions for Jews.”

The report makes certain recommendations, most of them about beefing up education at all levels about Judaism, Israel, and Jewish life and history.  This solution may seem self-evident, but on a continent where schools are increasingly timid about teaching about (for example) the Holocaust for fear of arousing Muslims pupils' wrath, it counts as pretty gutsy.

To be sure, for those of us who have been noticing the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe for years, nothing in the Italian report really qualifies as headline news.  But it's encouraging nonetheless that a leading Western European government considered this subject important enough to commission a major inquiry into it.  In Norway, where breathtakingly ugly public expressions of anti-Semitism by leading members of the cultural elite are well-nigh routine, one can hardly imagine the government ordering such a study.  (If it did, the resulting report would almost certainly blame European anti-Semitism mostly on actions by Israel, including its treatment of the Palestinians.)  That the government of Italy, where anti-Semitism is considerably less virulent than in many other Western European countries, saw fit to address this issue head-on, and to produce a genuinely honest and searching report, is immensely admirable.  Hats off to the Berlusconi government.  And may every other country in Europe learn a lesson from this: get some cojones, face up to the evil within, and do what's right before it's too late.

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