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Primo Levi, Never a Zionist, Called Israel ‘life Raft’ of Jews

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Primo Levi, the internationally acclaimed Italian Jewish author, acknowledged a year before his death that Israel is the “life raft” of the Jewish people, though he personally never was a Zionist.

The views of the late Auschwitz survivor on the subject of Israel and himself as an Italian were published last Thursday in La Repubblica.

The newspaper excerpted the transcript of a discussion Levi had with high-school students in the northern Adriatic coastal town of Pesaro on May 5, 1986, 11 months before he committed suicide.

“I returned from prison together with other survivors who were not Italian and they said to me, ‘Come with us, why are you going back to Italy? You will find your family scattered, your house destroyed, your job taken; come with us, let’s go build a new country,'” Levi recalled.

“It was a proposal which — I was very young at the time — excited me, but first I wanted to see what there was, what I had left in Italy, and in Italy I found my family almost intact, the house standing, and a job almost immediately.

“From that moment, I considered Italy totally my country, I felt myself an Italian citizen,” Levi said.

But he acknowledged “sentimental links” with Israel, where he had many friends and visited “as a pilgrim more than as a tourist.”

He observed that while “the Jews effectively have a refuge, it is a precarious refuge, it is a refuge that scorches the fingers; it is a refuge of continuous danger; but their condition has changed.”

“The presence, at least potentially, of a refuge state, of a lifeboat state, a life raft where they can land is of extreme importance and changes their way of being,” Levi said.

Israel “is in a way the potential, if not actual, homeland of all,” he said.

Nevertheless, Levy described himself as “95 percent Italian and 5 percent Jewish. I am not and never have been a Zionist, nor have I ever been tempted to go and live permanently in Israel.”

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