Irene Pivetti, the newly elected speaker of the lower house of the Italian Parliament, denies that she is anti-Semitic, but nonetheless contends that Jews are racist.
She is a slight, pale and delicate-looking woman who likes to dress in pastel colors, but her appearance is deceiving.
She is known as the “la papessa (the popess)” and “la pasionaria” for the vehement view on Catholicism and fiery oratory in defense of her party, the separatist Northern League, and its leader, Umberto Bossi.
“Your soul to God; your vote to Bossi,” was her campaign slogan in the March 27-28 national elections. She describes herself in order of priority as “Catholic, leaguist and woman.”
Pivetti was elected speaker Saturday, when Parliament convened for the first time since Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party and his right-wing allies won enough seats in last month’s elections to form a government.
Pivetti’s outspoken view on Jews have been the subject of concern in the Italian Jewish community.
At 31, she is the youngest speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in the history of the post-World war II Italian Republic. But her view are deeply rooted in the past, harking back to Italy before unification and to the church before the ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council in the mid 1960s.
Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, expressed concern about Pivetti’s conception of a “triumphalist Catholicism that the Catholic Church has substantially revised since the ecumenical Vatican Council II.”
The charges of anti-Semitism arose from a commentary Pivetti wrote for the Nov. 13, 1992 issue of the newspapers L’Independente, in which she condemned the outcry against skinheads who had plastered Stars of David on a number of Jewish-owned shops in Milan.
“Thus even the perfect idiocy of the Star of David affixed to the doors of the Jews becomes the pretext for giving vent to ridiculous jeremiads against resurgent anti-Semitism and justifying the sensitivity of bands of young Jews with itching hands,” she wrote.
Pivetti’s view commanded attention because she had been elected to Parliament seven months earlier and was in charge of the Northern League’s relations with the Vatican.
The article was resurrected by the opposition Radical Party when the right-wing “Freedom Alliance” that won last month’s elections announced that Pivetti was the majority candidate for speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.
The position ranks third in Italy’s institutional hierarchy, behind the president and the Senate speaker.
Pivetti called the left-wing Radical Party’s accusation of anti-Semitism “demented” and said she had asked her lawyer to look into the possibility of filing slander charges.
Accusing the Radicals of using the issue as a ploy to raise their political price for supporting the alliance, she said, “Anti-Semitism has generated tragedy and it is despicable to throw it out for calculated business aims.”
To clinch her argument, she reported that the first person to congratulate her on her candidacy was a Jewish member of Milan’s City Council, Dr. Franco Fiorentini.
But she has contended that there is “a racial component to Judaism.”
In the 1992 article, Pivetti wrote that Italian Jews have jealously guarded the “identity of a racial, religious and cultural minority.”
They marry “only among themselves (if they are practitioners), considering themselves the Chosen People of God and expanding the considerable economic, intellectual and political influence of their community,” she wrote.
Quoting a friend who was born a Jew but converted to Christianity, she said it was for these reason that Jews have been persecuted over the centuries.
Pivetti is equally unforgiving on the supremacy of Catholicism. She included the oblique attack on Pope John Paul II and his ecumenicism in her reply to the anti-Semitism charges.
She is accused of anti-Semitism, she said, “for being a Catholic who doesn’t recognize elder brothers’ in false religions.”
The Pope first referred to Jews as “our elder brothers in Abraham” when he made a historic visit to the Rome Synagogue in 1986, and he has used the phrase repeatedly since then.
Pivetti contends it is the “duty” of Catholics to convert non-Catholics.
The newspaper La Stampa reported that when asked why she would want to convert a Muslim, she replied, “To save his soul.”
When it was pointed out that the Muslim might have equally strong religious convictions, she said, “The difference is that I am right and he is wrong.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.