Italian Jews blast anti-Semitic editorial

ROME, Oct. 30 (JTA) — An Italian commentator has outraged Jews with a prominent and provocative editorial they claim is anti-Semitic.

In the editorial, Barbara Spinelli claimed that the Jewish world should make a public apology for “the peoples or individuals” who paid in “blood or exile” so that Israel could exist.

Italian Jewish leaders sharply attacked Spinelli’s article in the Turin- based daily La Stampa for displaying ignorance of Judaism, history and the relationship between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora.

“Spinelli has erected a monument to delusion and to bitterness, and has pronounced a severe act of accusation against an entire country and against the entire Jewish Diaspora,” Tullia Zevi, past president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, wrote in a response published in La Stampa.

Said another Jewish official, “Spinelli completely confounded Judaism the religion with Israel the political entity. It’s the old anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism that we’ve seen before.”

Entitled “Judaism without ‘Mea Culpa,’ ” Spinelli’s article claimed that Israel and the Jewish people as a whole had not recognized the change in the world brought about by the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States and the dangers that now existed.

She accused Jews of acting as if they were the only people who had the divine right to “live in absolute freedom while the other mortals struggle forward under the harsh regime of necessity.”

Spinelli praised Pope John Paul II for having asked forgiveness in recent years for the Crusades, colonialism, “certain excesses of proselytism,” and for the attitude of Catholics “toward the Jewish extermination.”

After Sept. 11, she wrote, the pope has been prompted by an “extreme alarm” that Western civilization and its values were in the balance.

“This vast alarm is absent in Israel,” she wrote. “And if there is something whose absence is felt in Judaism, it is just this: a ‘mea culpa’ regarding peoples and individuals who have had to pay the price of blood or of exile in order to allow Israel to exist.”

She called on Jews in the Diaspora — many of whom, she said, “live a double and contradictory loyalty, toward Israel and toward the states to which they belong and in which they vote” — to repent and press Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians.

Jews in the West, she said, should line up with the West, rather than with Israel, choosing “electoral links” over “blood links.”

The article, published Sunday, prompted numerous responses. Some were printed as Op-Ed pieces in La Stampa; others appeared as e-mail postings to the newspaper’s online forum.

Gad Lerner, a prominent left-leaning commentator, wrote that he and many other Jews could and did agree that the wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians had to be recognized.

But, he admonished Spinelli, what is needed is a “secular compromise,” not “incendiary arguments for religious war.”

Published comments by Italian political figures, however, expressed appreciation of Spinelli’s view — and frustration with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“Spinelli hit the bull’s-eye,” former Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told La Stampa.

“The moment has arrived to resolve once and for all the Middle East conflict. Peace has to be built, negotiated, even imposed. Europe and the United States need to make Sharon understand: It is not possible to ask for the end of every violence before sitting down at the negotiation table.”

In another development, Italy’s president, Carlo Ciampi, joined a growing number of European leaders when he voiced his support Monday for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Speaking during an official visit to Tunisia, Ciampi said “the time was right” for such a state as long as Israel’s security is guaranteed.

He said that the crisis in the Middle East is not a religious war.

Rather, he said, it is a “regional conflict that is serious, prolonged and bloody — but resolvable.”

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