ROME (Mar. 29)
The landslide vctory in Italy’s parliamentary elections this week by a right-wing alliance led by billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has opened the door to a government including neo-fascists and has left many Italian Jews deeply concerned.
“The trend is evident: It is the consequence of a period of great uncertainty resulting from the recession and corruption scandals,” Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
She said she hoped that whoever became prime minister would remain true to Italy’s postwar history, born “out of the ashes of fascism” and with a constitution that protects minorities and guarantees rights.
Many Jews — like many non-Jewish Italians — had a tough choice in the elections.
While some rightist candidates and Berlusconi’s business-oriented platform appealed to some Jewish voters, many were reluctant to vote for any alliance that included the neo-fascists.
On the other hand, while many Jews were sympathetic to the left, some were reluctant to vote for an alliance that included hard-line Communists, who have long favored anti-Israel causes.
“I could never have voted for the right, and I supported the progressive (leftist) alliance in general,” said one Rome Jew, a university professor. “But I could not vote for the Stalinists.”
Berlusconi’s so-called Freedom Alliance links his 2-month-old Forza Italia (Go, Italy !) party with the neo-fascist National Alliance and the separatist Northern League.
The three parties now control a majority of 366 seats in the 630-member Chamber of Deputies and a qualified majority of 155 in the Senate. By contrast, former Communist Achille Orcchetto’s left-wing Progressive group won 213 seats in the lower house.
The right-wing alliance’s victory opens the possibility of a government that for the first time would include the neo-fascists.
“However the seats are distributed, one thing is clear,” neo-fascist leader Gianfranco Finitold a victory rally. “There is no way a non-left government can be formed without our 13 percent.”
Many here are worried about this possibility along with the overall success of the neo-fascists, who, with more than 13 percent of the vote, now constitute the third largest party in the country.
The neo-fascists are heirs to wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and long languished at the extremes of the Italian political spectrum.
The polished, 42-year-old Fini has spent considerable effort attempting to rid the party of its old jackboot image. It even changed its name to the National Alliance from the Italian Social Movement after electoral successes in local elections last fall.
Fini also has pushed the image of his party as “clean,” arguing that since it was ostracized by the government for so long, it was not involved in the corruption scandals that have virtually destroyed the traditional ruling parties and kicked hundreds of top politicians out of their jobs.
Nonetheless, militant right-wing youths were among the 2,000 people at Fini’s victory rally in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, giving the straight-armed fascist salute and shouting “Duce, Duce.” II Duce, or the leader, was the title used to hail Mussolini.
MUSSOLINI’S GRANDDAUGHTER AMONG WINNERS
Mussolini’s granddaughter Alessandra trounced her opposition to win a parliament seat in Naples. On the eve of the election, she had condemned the recent firebombing of a synagogue in Lubeck, Germany, saying, “However these elections go, in Italy’s Second Republic there won’t be room for intolerance or racism.”
The elections were held over two days, Sunday and Monday, in order to allow observant Jews, barred from voting on Passover, to go to the polls after sundown Monday night.
Many non-Jewish politicians and celebrities chose to vote after sundown Monday to show solidarity with the Jewish community.
But Berlusconi angered many Jews by voting not just after sundown but — with much fanfare — at a polling place in Rome’s old Jewish ghetto, where he was heckled and accused of blatant manipulation.
Tullia Zevi and other Jewish leaders told reporters that Berlusconi’s move was “demagogic.”
“It wasn’t welcomed with an enthusiastic embrace because one can see that the right is not really inscribed in the chromosomes of our people,” Zevi was quoted as saying.
She compared the move to Fini’s having gone last fall to lay flowers at the Fosse Ardeatine monument outside Rome to more than 300 Romans, including about 70 Jews, executed by the Nazis in retaliation for a partisan attack.
In other races, television reporter Fabrizio del Noce ran successfully on the Berlusconi ticket in a Rome district with a strong Jewish community. He had courted the Jewish vote during his campaign based on his own well-known sympathy and support for Israel.
“For me, a candidate’s attitude toward Israel and the Jews is an important reason to vote for him,” said David Funaro, a Jew who actively worked for del Noce’s election.