Most Italian Jews Back Israel in Face of Criticism, Rabbi Says

The majority of Italy’s 35,000 Jews is united behind Israel in the face of criticism of its tough measures to quell the continuing Palestinian riots, according to the chief rabbi of Rome.

He conceded, however, that a small minority of leftist Jews is sharply critical of Israel’s policy, a position he disputes.

“I believe that as Jews we should keep our differences to ourselves,” Rabbi Elio Toaff, 73, said in an exclusive interview last week during a U.S. visit. The interview was conducted in Hebrew at Diva Restaurant, the only dairy kosher Italian eatery in New York.

The chief rabbi said that a recent appeal criticizing the Israeli government and signed by 500 Italian Jews comprised only leftist Jews from Milan “who believe that the interests of the (the Communist Party) surpass the interests of the Jewish people.”

But he noted that he banned a proclamation in support of Israel by the Rome Jewish community because of his belief that Jews should keep their opinions to themselves.

“In Rome most of the Jewish community is supportive of Israel,” Toaff said.

The chief rabbi accused the Italian media of biased coverage of the disturbances and the Israeli counter-measures in the administered territories.

“The Italian media have grossly exaggerated the actions of the Israeli government. The reports lacked objectivity. After all, you can not blame only one side and accuse it with all that goes wrong while saying that the other side is blameless,” Toaff said.

SAID AVERAGE ITALIAN SUPPORTIVE

Despite the media barrage, the chief rabbi said, “the man in the street” is still supportive of the Jewish state.

Toaff acknowledged reports that anti-Semitism in Italy has increased as a result of the worsening image of Israel.

“Look, anti-Semitism has never completely disappeared in Italy. And whenever something happens in the Land of Israel–there is an increase in anti-Semitism in Italy. After all, the extreme-right parties in Italy have always been anti-Semites, and they still are. And so is the extreme left,” he said.

Italian Jewry is therefore “concerned, but not surprised” at finding “anti-Semitic slogans painted across walls in Rome, and especially on stores owned by Jews. Some of the slogans said ‘Jews to the ovens,’ ‘Let’s make soap out of the Jews’ or ‘The Jews Must Die,’ ” he said.

According to Toaff, the current anti-Semitism is milder than the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel feelings that prevailed in Italy during the Israeli war in Lebanon in 1982.

The chief rabbi said that he is concerned over the recent anti-Semitic mood in his country, but he said he does not fear violence against Italian Jews.

Toaff arrived in New York in connection with the publication of his book “Perfidious Jews, Elder Brother,” his life story interwoven with that of his Jewish community. Few American publishers have expressed interest in publishing the book in the United States, Toaff said.

He also came here, he said, to introduce a new line of kosher Italian food prepared under his supervision on behalf of the municipality of Rome.

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