Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato met this week with the head of the Italian Jewish community to express solidarity with Italy’s Jews amid a spate of anti-Semitic incidents and a poll saying one in 10 Italians believes the Holocaust never happened.
Amato told Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, that the government was alert to the need for attention to “a worrisome recrudescence” of anti-Semitic acts. The meeting took place Tuesday, a day after 25 Jewish shop owners in outlying districts of Rome found yellow stickers bearing Stars of David and the slogan, “Out with Zionists from Italy,” pasted on their shutters.
It also emerged that a dozen gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Finale Emilia, near Modena and Ferrara in northern Italy, had been vandalized last week, and that the incident had been kept quiet in an effort to avert copycat attacks.
Both incidents coincided with the publication in a major newsweekly, L’Espresso, of a controversial survey indicating that one in 10 Italians is anti-Semitic.
Amato expressed the support of the Italian government for Italy’s Jews as “an integral part” of the national community and praised the Jewish community’s “incalculable ethical and civic” contribution to national and European culture.
But anti-Semitic manifestations are alarming community leaders.
“We are very concerned,” Rabbi Raffaello Lattes of Modena was quoted as saying. “These episodes get repeated. If word spreads that this happened, it could spark off other incidents.”
The anti-Semitic action in Rome “had only one motive: to raise the level of anti-Jewish prejudice in Italy,” said Zevi.
One shopkeeper whose shutters were defaced with the yellow stickers, said, “We are having ugly surprises from our fellow Italians.”
Franco Carraro, the mayor of Rome, vowed official action. “This episode offends Rome and one of its oldest communities, which 50 years ago paid an extremely high tribute with the deportation of 2,000 Roman Jews,” he said.
“I myself feel humiliated and indignant and I am instructing police to remove the stickers and make sure such actions do not occur again,” he added. The mayor said he would take other initiatives “in order to get rid of the ghosts of intolerance and prejudice.”
Meanwhile, politicians and commentators reacted sharply to the public opinion survey published in L’Espresso magazine.
“The results of the survey on anti-Semitism are chilling,” said Giovanni Spadolini, president of the Senate and a longtime supporter of Israel.
“How is it possible to maintain the Jews are not real Italians?” he added, referring to the fact that more than a third of those surveyed felt that way.
Many commentators, including Jews, however, said the survey was distorted or that the responses were interpreted mistakenly.
“Limiting the survey to attitudes about Jews, isolated from other elements that society regards as ‘different’ puts the credibility and usefulness of the results in a different light,” said Zevi.