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Leader of Italian Rightists Makes Overtures to Israel

March 3, 1998
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A leader of an Italian party with neo-fascist roots has been busy building bridges to the Jewish world.

But his actions have raised questions among some regarding whether his moves have been made in an effort solely to improve his party’s image.

At a three-day convention ending Sunday, Gianfranco Fini again sought to distance his National Alliance Party from its neo-fascist roots and make overtures to Israel and the Jewish world.

Fini, who formed the National Alliance out of the old neo-fascist Italian Social Movement in the mid-1990s, has been trying for years to shed his party’s jackboot image and move his party toward the center.

He has taken a number of steps to demonstrate sensitivity to Jewish issues – – and to the fact that Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was Hitler’s chief ally and instituted anti-Semitic laws in Italy in 1938.

The conference in the northern Italian city of Verona took these efforts a step further.

It was attended by a delegation from Israel’s Likud Party, and Fini — who has long wanted to visit Israel as a demonstration of his rejection of the fascist past — gave a lengthy interview to Israeli television.

In the interview, he called the anti-Semitic laws “a horror” and admitted that some members of his party could be nostalgic for the past, “but they are a small minority and do not make policy.”

In his closing speech to the convention Sunday, Fini said people should not forget “the many Italians who were deported [during World War II] only because they were Jews.”

Rome’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, was quoted as saying he believed Fini’s stance was sincere, and if Fini wanted to meet with him, the door to his office “is always open.”

Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was more skeptical.

Fini “has sought various times to have contacts with our community in an attempt to legitimize his party,” she said. “But the problem is within the National Alliance itself.”

On the eve of the conference, one party member, Franco Perlasca, publicly called on Fini to make an even stronger condemnation of the past.

Perlasca is the son of the late Giorgio Perlasca. Perlasca, an Italian businessman and member of the Fascist Party, is known as the Italian Schindler because he saved as many as 5,000 Jews in the Budapest Ghetto by pretending to be a Spanish diplomat and issuing them false Spanish passports.

Franco Perlasca tried unsuccessfully to get a speaker to address the National Alliance convention in Hebrew in order to demonstrate sympathy with the Jewish world.

“I suppose that such a speaker would have been a gesture of solidarity to the Israeli representatives in attendance,” Zevi said. “Among ourselves and with our fellow citizens, we Italian Jews speak Italian.”

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