Anti-semitic Bias Found in Italy

Anti-Semitic prejudice — but without malevolence — has been found in Italy in surveys conducted in an isolated rural area and in the two largest cities, Rome and Milan, the World Jewish Congress reported today. The results were analyzed for broad trends by the Jewish Documentation Center of Milan, a research organization that monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Italy.

The most revealing was a series of short interviews, published in the Rome Jewish community’s monthly journal, Shalom. They were conducted by a young anthropologist at the University of Arezzo, Tuscany in townships and villages of the nearby Casentino Valley where the church archives contain records of many trials against Jews in the middle ages and later.

According to the report, “The question asked was ‘How do you picture a Jew?’” and “the answers contained fantasy, folktales, stereotypes based on hearsay and legends, a general mistrust of Jews … Ancient maledictions were related by students, clerks and peasant women as though they had happened yesterday.”

ABSENCE OF MALEVOLENCE

But, the WJC reported, “Although there was much repetition of the classic stereotypes — Jews gained riches as usurers, killed Christ — the interviewers were impressed by the absence of malevolence with which these ‘facts’ were related. A former teacher explained that, while there was no racism in the valley, there remains a traditional negative attitude toward Jews, much of it motivated by economic factors. But he pointed out that during the war, with many Jews in the area forced to hide, there was not a single case of betrayal.”

Similar interviews conducted in Rome and Milan “showed no hatred or even strong dislike though there was clear prejudice … expressed with great civility.” Respondents overestimated the number of Jews in Italy. “While Italy’s total Jewish population is about 35,000, the guesses ranged from 500,000 to five million,” the report said.

According to the WJC, experts at the Documentation Center in Milan have concluded that the interviews showed basic ignorance and confusion much more than hatred and racism. An independent finding of the Center indicated that the increase of anti-Semitic episodes in Italy was of fascist or neo-Nazi origin while church and religious inspired incidents have decreased sharply.

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