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Rise in Anti-semitism in Italy Prompts Warning from Leaders by Ruth E. Gruber

Italy’s highest political leaders have issued a stern warning against the rise of anti-Semitism and have voiced strong support for measures aimed at combatting it.

“A black thread runs through Europe,” Nilde Jotti, president of the Chamber of Deputies, told a conference on anti-Semitism in Italy and Europe last Thursday night.

“It is the trace of racial hatred against the Jews, which we believed was extinct but which instead we once again find has come to the fore,” she said.

Jotti was among a panel of senior government officials and Christian and Jewish leaders who took part in the conference, which was organized by the Italian chapter of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and held in a meeting hall of the Parliament building.

Other speakers included Giovanni Spadolini, president of the Senate; Justice Minister Giuliano Vassalli; Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome; and Monsignor Pietro Rosano, rector of Lateran Pontifical University.

President Francesco Cossiga, who lent his personal support to the conference, was among the numerous other politicians, jurists and representatives of other fields who attended.

“It was an extremely successful initiative. I didn’t imagine the response would be so great,” Rome lawyer Oreste Bisazza Terracini, the meeting’s organizer, said in a subsequent interview.

Terracini, president of the Rome branch of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers, said he began working on such a meeting in the wake of the May 10 desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Carpentras, France. He said he found immediate support from Cossiga and others.

“The response to our initiative by the highest leaders of the state comforts us and prompts us to believe” that attention will be paid to “carrying out concrete measures in the sphere of information and education” to combat anti-Semitism, Terracini said in his opening address.

He then enumerated the roots of anti-Semitism in three sources: Catholic teachings prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council 25 years ago; secular racist laws throughout Europe and enforced segregation of Jews that gave rise to pogroms; and ultimately the Holocaust.

LINK TO THE INTIFADA

Terracini also spoke of more recent causes coming from the Middle East, in .which anti-Zionism has become synonymous with anti-Semitism. There was a proliferation of anti-Semitic graffiti and remarks following the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987.

This last development, he said, has impinged on parts of Italy’s political left, “which until not long ago .was almost totally free of anti-Jewish prejudice.”

Vassalli, the minister of justice, emphasized that the Jewish community “formed part of the Italian nation,” noting that Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian uprising “and the harshness of military occupation” contributed toward creation of “an alibi of positions of diffidence and distance with regard to the Jews.”

Jotti, herself a veteran Community Party leader, said; “The presence of Cossiga and the highest state authorities at this meeting has great significance: It shows that for the democratic Republic of Italy, anti-Semitism is not a problem of the Jews but a problem of all our citizens, of all their political representatives and institutions.”

Toaff proposed that the Education Ministry and the Jewish community form a joint commission to improve textbooks and even to promote special lessons on Jews in the schools.

The chief rabbi said a commission of experts was already examining Italian school texts, in which “Jews arc referred to rather little, in many cases in a way that is factious and tendentious.

“In this way, school assumes a serious responsibility toward students, giving them incomplete notions, which can often generate hostility toward the Jewish people,” Toaff said.

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