Rome’s Chief Rabbi Calls on Pope to Condemn New Anti-semitism There
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Rome’s Chief Rabbi Calls on Pope to Condemn New Anti-semitism There

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The chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, has criticized Pope John Paul II for failing to speak out against anti-Semitism at a time when anti-Semitic threats, graffiti and, in a few cases, violence are spreading here and in other major Italian cities.

Toaff, whose remarks appeared in the newspaper La Repubblica, also lashed out against the Italian news media for their coverage of Israeli soldiers battling Palestinian rioters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He claimed it was biased against Israel and largely responsible for inflaming anti-Semitic passions in Italy in recent weeks.

Toaff said he himself has received hate mail. “We hoped that the pope would have said a word to restore peace and justice, but it didn’t happen,” the chief rabbi said.

A resurgence of anti-Jewish sentiment has alarmed the Jewish community. Graffiti have appeared in Rome, Milan and Bologna with such slogans as “Israelis kill Palestinians — Jews will pay” or “Dirty Jew, we will kick you out.”

Five youths were arrested last week for putting up posters here reading “Zionist assassins free Palestine.” They admitted membership in the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.

Earlier in the week, three Jews trying to remove swastikas spray-painted on the entrance to their stores were jostled by youngsters who spit at them and shouted “filthy assassins.”


Police are now guarding synagogues, Jewish schools and the Israeli Embassy here and have stepped up vigilance at the borders to prevent the entry of suspected anti-Israel terrorists.

Toaff said the hate mail he has received since the disturbances began in the Israeli-occupied territories last month “all have the same motif. They say we (Jews) are co-responsible for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, and for this they will kill us and send us to extermination camps.”

According to Toaff, this crude anti-Semitism is a direct outcome of media coverage of clashes in the administered territories. He charged that the news was presented in “inappropriate, ideological, preconceived language.”

Specifically, he said, “I saw with my own eyes television reports based day after day on the same pictures, the most bloody ones. However, I saw no mention of deaths on the Israeli side, not even that 30-year-old woman with a 4-year-old child, who died in her car because of a Molotov cocktail.”

He was referring to an Israeli woman from Alfei Menashe in the West Bank who was burned to death with her child when the family car was fire-bombed last spring.

Toaff said the news media were using the same condemnatory language against Israel as they did at the time of the September 1982 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. “The situation, whether you like it or not, is different,” he said.

“I am not a Jew with a persecution complex,” Toaff said, “but reports like this kindle the flame of anti-Semitism, which here, like anywhere, is smoldering under the ashes.” He added, “This time I hope reason prevails before there occurs another tragedy, another death.”

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