Thousands of Italians March to Show Solidarity with Jews

Tens of thousands of Italians marched in protest against racism and anti-Semitism over the weekend.

The march followed two more incidents involving the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Late last Thursday night, Nazi slogans were scrawled on tombstones in two small cemeteries near Como, in northern Italy.

Earlier last week, it was discovered that a Jewish cemetery in Naples had been vandalized.

On Saturday, thousands of people, mainly students, marched through Rome, Milan, Bari and other cities to show a solidarity with Italy’s 30,000 Jews and to protest racist violence.

Many marchers wore big yellow stars, recalling those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust. They carried banners and chanted slogans such as “Never Again,” and “We are all Jews.”

On Sunday, about 4,000 people marched through Rome to the old ghetto area, near the main synagogue, to demonstrate identification with the Jewish community.

“I am happy for this display of solidarity, but it would be much better if it hadn’t been necessary,” said Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff.

Speaking to the crowd through a megaphone, he said, “We are grateful to you because you demonstrate that those who have shown violence and mental shortcomings, that small fringe, does not count for anything among the Roman people.”

He added, “You cannot imagine my satisfaction on behalf of the Jews of Rome, who have lived here for 2,000 years.”

The march was organized by local district officials who said they wanted to set an example for the city.

Meanwhile, Italian government leaders have promised to introduce legislation specifically directed against racism and anti-Semitism.

“Soon,” said Justice Minister Claudio Martelli, “we will define the crime of racism and anti-Semitism, so that no one is permitted to extol, call for, propose or claim ominous experiences and so that the barbarities by which people are persecuted only because they have a different skin, a different religion, a different culture, do not return.”

Some public figures are urging laws aimed specifically at curbing neo-Nazi skinheads. But one Roman official said the laws already on the books should be more vigorously enforced.

There “needs to be energetic actions from the forces of order, through the vigilance of the interior ministry, and a strict application of laws already enacted,” said the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Giorgio Napolitano.

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