Graffiti Arouse Warnings of Anti-semitism in Italy

The appearance of swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti in Rome, Milan and Bologna this past week has prompted warnings of an upsurge of anti-Semitism among Italians, especially the far right.

Leading Italian newspapers and commentators attributed the graffiti to neo-fascist groups. So say they were roused by the daily media coverage of tough measures the Israeli security forces have taken to quell Palestinian rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Alfonso di Nola, a prominent historian, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that “intolerance against Jews is increasing in Italy.” He observed that “every time Israel enters into conflict with the Palestinians, there is an upsurge of racism.”

According to Di Nola, “In Rome, the graffiti appear mainly in areas where there is a strong fascist presence.” Slogans such as “Burn Jews” and “Jews to the ovens” have been spray-painted or scrawled on walls along Rome’s Via Ottaviano and in Milan and Bologna. They often are accompanied by swastikas or the symbols of right-wing and neo-fascist groups.

These slogans have appeared on the walls of a Jewish school in Milan and on shops. Voce Republicano, the official newspaper of the Republican Party, attributed them to the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MS). The paper spoke of a “lynching” mentality and “anti-Jewish reflexes” almost everywhere.

Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said that “with the end of the (Christmas/New Year) vacations it will be necessary to reinforce vigilance in the schools.” The Italian Federation of Jewish Youth condemned the “manifestations of intolerance and discrimination” and called “on all responsible powers” not to underestimate the seriousness of “the reappearance of anti-Semitic phenomena.”

Luciano Tas, editor of the Jewish community newspaper Shalom, told Corriere Della Sera, “The mass media contribute to heighten the climate with false and provocative reports.”

LETTER OF WARNING

Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Mordechai Drory, apparently anticipated the situation. Ten days ago he sent letters to leading Italian newspapers expressing concern over their coverage of events in the Israel-administered territories. He warned this could lead to dangerous anti-Semitic manifestations.

“There is great hysteria in the way in which disorders in the occupied territories are presented,” Drory complained. “When Israel and its people are dealt with, many passions are unleashed which are translated into uncontrolled violence.” His letter was published in several newspapers.

When President Francesco Cossiga of Italy visited Israel last month, his trip became controversial because it took place while disturbances were occurring in the territories. Cossiga met with Palestinian representatives as well as Israeli officials.

Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, who supports the Palestinian cause but also affirms Israel’s right to exist in security, has expressed disapproval of Israel’s treatment of the recent disorders.

In an unrelated development, an Israeli diplomat was invited, for the first time, to attend a Vatican ceremony in St. Peters Basilica.

Myron Gordon, who is accredited to the Italian government (the Vatican has no diplomatic relations with Israel), joined representatives from 15 Arab organizations including the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab League at the ordination by Pope John Paul II of Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian to be appointed patriarch of the Latin Rite in Jerusalem.

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