ROME (Mar. 11)
Italian Jewish leaders have warned that anti-Semitic attacks this week against a distinguished journalist of Jewish origin could be symptoms of a more dangerous strain of racism.
“I don’t want to overdramatize things, but we need to be more vigilant, to pay more attention,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told JTA.
The attacks came after Paolo Mieli was named on Friday to head the board of directors of the Italian state broadcasting system, RAI.
The post is highly politicized, and Mieli’s appointment came after months of debate over pluralism and political influence in the media.
A former editor in chief of the Corriere della Sera and La Stampa newspapers, Mieli had a Jewish father and has a Jewish-sounding last name, but he is not active in the Jewish community.
However, he is a prominent supporter of Jewish causes and Israel.
On Sunday, two days after his appointment, anti-Semitic graffiti were found on the walls of RAI’s office in Milan.
“Down with Mieli, Raus,” read one, scrawled next to a Star of David and a swastika, and using the German word for “get out.”
“RAI for Italians. Not to the Jews. Mieli Raus,” read the other. The logo of a neo-fascist group was scrawled nearby.
At the same time, a front-page editorial in the Il Tempo newspaper complained that Italian television was being dominated “by professionals of excellent quality, but with non-Catholic culture and sensibility.”
Beside Mieli, the editorial mentioned two other prominent journalists of Jewish origin, Clemente Mimun and Enrico Mentana.
The graffiti attack prompted loud condemnation from across the political spectrum.
“To insult someone for the sole fact of being the son of a Jew takes us back half a century, to the darkest moment in European history,” said Enzo Fragala, of the right-wing National Alliance Party.
Mieli himself was quoted as calling the graffiti a “terrible signal.” Milan police launched an immediate investigation into the affair.
On Tuesday, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi stepped in with a ringing defense of Jews as full-fledged Italians, apparently in response to the Il Tempo article.
The recent attacks were isolated incidents in a society of which Jews form an integral part, Ciampi said.
“The Jews are Italians; let us not forget what they have done for Italy,” the news agency Ansa quoted Ciampi as saying during a visit to the World War II concentration camp at Fossoli.
Italy so far has been spared the anti-Semitic violence that has hit France and other countries since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.
But Italian Jews for months have warned of a subtle ideological shift, with pro-Palestinian political stands resulting in a growing acceptance of classic anti-Semitic rhetoric in both public discourse and private conversation, as well as a demonization of Israel in the media.
“We’re better than some other countries, but there are concerns,” said Yasha Reibman, spokesman for the Milan Jewish community.
Luzzatto said that even if a small, isolated group of extremists was responsible for the graffiti against Mieli, its message had a broader and more worrisome meaning.
“It was classic racism, attacking someone because of his last name,” he said. “The problem is, if they used this argument it means that they knew that it was acceptable to a larger group, that there are a lot of people who agree with them.”
The Il Tempo editorial gave particular cause for concern, Luzzatto said, as its insinuations that non-Catholics were not quite Italian were made at a time when a constitution for the European Union is under discussion.
A number of delegates to the E.U. constitutional convention have attempted to include a passage about Christian values or roots in the constitution’s text.