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Italian Jewry offers support to black gov’t minister targeted by racism

(JTA) — Italy’s Jewish leadership expressed “all the solidarity of Italian Jews” to a black Italian government minister who has been targeted by racist slurs and death threats.

In the most recent slur against Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge, the vice president of the Italian senate, Roberto Calderoli, at a rally on Saturday of his Northern League party compared Kyenge to an “orangutan.”

Kyenge, Italy’s first black national official, immigrated to Italy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearly 30 years ago.

In a statement Sunday, Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called Calderoli’s remarks “shameful” and “an offense against the institutions and against Italian society as a whole.”

He added, “There are no misunderstandings when phrases like this are concerned, only a sense of profound uneasiness and shame for whoever has made them. All the solidarity of Italian Jews goes to minister Kyenge.”

Since being named to Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s center-left government two months ago, Kyenge has had to contend with an avalanche of hate speech, mainly from extreme right political groups. Death threats have been posted on Facebook.

Letta called Calderoli’s words “unacceptable, beyond all limits.” Other politicians also condemned Calderoli; some called for his resignation.

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