Italy Facing Worst Anti-semitism in 50 Years, Chief Rabbi Charges

Italian Jewry is facing the worst wave of anti-Semitism since the fascist regime a half century ago, according to Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff of Rome.

Toaff substantiated that charge by displaying bundles of hate mail and scores of photographs of anti-Semitic graffiti at a news conference in the Great Synagogue here Wednesday.

He was accompanied by Giacomo Saban, president of Rome’s Jewish community, who also related numerous incidents involving anti-Semitic behavior. They said they believed the phenomenon was directly related to hostility toward Israel for the harsh measures it has used to suppress the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Much of the hate mail they displayed attested to that fact. Toaff warned that Italy is facing anti-Semitism similar to that which engulfed it when Benito Mussolini, emulating Hitler, promulgated racial laws aimed against Jews.

The Rome chief rabbi created a stir in a newspaper interview earlier this month, where he branded as anti-Semitic certain elements of the Roman Catholic press and the Vatican.

He reiterated those charges at the news conference, but broadened his criticism to include the mainstream Italian press.

“We are particularly worried by articles that appear in authoritative publications, even in the Catholic framework, which put forward attitudes hostile to Judaism, both in the social and religious spheres,” and which, he said, “may be particularly influential” on the mass readership.

ACCOSTED IN THE STREETS

Toaff related incidents in which Jews were accosted in the streets of Rome. He said a student at the university was forced to remove a Star of David from a chain around his neck.

An elderly survivor of the Auschwitz death camp was asked by a doctor who saw the concentration camp tattoo on his arm, “How many Palestinians have you killed today in your concentration camps?”

In another episode, a Rome Jew was mailed a partly burned copy of the local Jewish magazine, Shalom, with a note reading “Mr. Jew, would you kindly free Palestine if you do not want to end up like this newspaper. A thousand thanks.” The note was signed “Not anti-Semites, but friends of Palestine.”

The chief rabbi responded to questions about Jewish attitudes toward Israeli policies. “Every Jew is always in sympathy with the state of Israel, with which he shares its fate, and which represents for him a principle of continuity from the religious and moral points of view, and also from the point of view of security,” Toaff said.

“As for the Israeli government, it’s not I who names it. I don’t have to like it. I support the state and the people it represents.”

Some Italian journalists have contested the anti-Semitic examples Toaff offered in the news media. “Articles sharply criticizing Israel’s tough policy against Palestinian demonstrators include affirmations that you may either reject or agree with, but which refer to the Israeli government, not the Jews of Rome,” Ezio Pasero wrote in the daily Il Messaggero.

But Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, who backs both Israel’s right to exist and Palestinian demands for a homeland, seems to share Rabbi Toaff’s anxiety.

In his weekly column for the magazine Europeo, Andreotti wrote that he was watching with great concern the controversy developing over a feared revival of anti-Jewish feeling, which supposedly exists in Catholic circles, without the approval but also without explicit condemnation by the church.

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