After the “March on Rome,” the Fascist movement placed the Jew of Italy in a peculiar position. At that time, the main attack of Fascism was not directed so much against Socialism and Communism, which had already been defeated in the fight against the “Fascist cadres,” but against the whole tradition of the liberal regime, which had ruled over the Peninsula since the foundation of the united Italian stateâ€”since 1870. The Jews, however, had gained their emancipation in this tradition and their full equality as citizens.
During the half century of the liberal regime, Jews had attained the highest official positions, and had been able to develop these activities unimpaired in all fields of cultural, social and economic life. Sydney Sonnino and Luigi Luzzatti, two Italian Prime Ministers of Jewish descent, were examples of the full political equality the Jews enjoyed.
The open war which Mussolini had declared on liberalism, obviously caused uncertainty amongst the Jews over their future status in the state. Now, after twelve years of Fascism in Italy, it must be stated that the change of regime has not narrowed down the position of Italian Jewry. From the first moment on II Duce held the correct judgment regarding the social and economic value of the Jews and appreciated their honest exemplary patriotism. And he took pains to enlist them in positive work for the state.
ITALIAN FASCISM FOE OF ANTI-SEMITISM
Although Fascism brought about a spirit of extreme nationalism, it was a nationalistic spirit unmarred by anti-Semitism. Mussolini’s government did not let itself be seduced into wandering onto the wrong path of anti-Jewish policy, to which several Fascist writers tried to lead it. These guides did not find an echo of response among the masses of the Italian people.
The best proof of the nature of the relations between leading circles, especially II Duce, himself, and Italian Jewry, is the new law about the Jewish communities In the first place, its principal purpose is the establishment of an autonomous body, the “Union of Jewish Communities in Italy.”
The special tasks of this new representative body of Italian Jewry include the maintenance of relations with Jews every where, and particularly with those communities which, by tradition, are concerned with Italian Jewry. Besides this, there are also many problems regarding organization and religious education. The communities mentioned consist of those situated along the coast of the Mediterranean, in the Balkans, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Palestineâ€”in all those countries, where Italy seeks to extend its political and economic influence.
The Italian government supports the rabbinical seminary at Rodi, and maintains a benevolent policy towards the Jewish population of the Aegean islands. The new Union of Jewish Communities has been entrusted with fortifying the tradition which links the Jewries of these countries with Livorno, Florence, Ancona and Rome.
ITALIAN FASCISM CLASHES WITH NAZISM
The discord in the relations between Fascism and National-Socialism, which has even taken the form of a strong enmity, has also been a good omen for Italian Jewry. The critical position taken by the press and the Italian public toward Nazi “race theory” was underlined, with full force, by the highest government circles. It is only necessary to draw attention to the words of Mussolini, when, speaking to a huge audience at Bari, he declared that Italy, from the height of a 3,000-year-old history, “could look down with deep pity only, at theories propounded by descendants of those people which did not even know the art of writing, when we already had our Caesar and our Virgil.”
It was, therefore, no accident that on the same day, II Duce opened the Palestine Pavilion at the Levantine Fair at Bari, where he strongly praised the work of Jewish colonization in Palestine and also spoke of the expectation of development of economic and cultural relations with the new Palestine.
Premier Mussolini’s outspoken condemnation of the Nazi persecution has attracted much attention and aroused the fury of the Nazi press on more than one occasion.
Recently the Italian radio system broadcast a declaration, attributed to Mussolini himself, which lauded the Jews of Italy and contrasted their treatment south of the Alps with the persecution by the Nazis.
“The Jews of Italy,” the statement declared, “enjoy equal rights with all other citizens. Italy has never known anti-Semitism and there is no prejudice against the Jews in our country. On the contrary, the Jews have proved themselves loyal and devoted citizens, and in the war they fought bravely and honorably at the side of their Italian comrades.
“They are therefore appointed like all other citizens to the highest positions in the state and the army. The highest posts in Italy are open to Jews. The Jews of Italy are patriotic and are loyal adherents of the state, which knows no race theory.
“In Germany, however, the Jewish minority has always been made responsible for every misfortune and used as a scapegoat. For this purpose a ‘race theory’ has been evolved according to which the ‘Aryans’ stand above the Jews, although Gobineau, on whom the race fanatics base themselves, established that the Jews are the purest race.
“The head of our government, Premier Mussolini, has repeatedly drawn attention to the grave injustice being committed against the Jews in Germany,” the statement concluded.
On another occasion, II Duce turned to a Rumanian Fascist delegation, paying him a visit, and vigorously condemned Rumanian anti-Semitism, declaring that it was “absurd to link Fascism and anti-Semitism.”
After twelve years of the Fascist regime, the Jews of Italy can state that the emancipation and the equality of rights which Italian liberalism had given them have in no way been impaired by the government of Premier Mussolini. In the country of Mazzini and Garibaldi, the theories of Nazi Germany cannot be practiced. They are met only with “pity and contempt.”