So much for the dolce vita: antisemitism in Italy?

By Jessica Elgot, June 23, 2011
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The Peres puppet erected in Turin

The Peres puppet erected in Turin

It could be a picture from a Nazi textbook, but this hook-nosed caricature of Israeli President Shimon Peres, with hands clasped around a Magen David and a pocketful of bleeding babies, was part of an Italian "cultural festival" last month.

The sinister funfair game, in which Turin students paid one euro to throw shoes at the gurning puppet, is one of a recent catalogue of incidents causing a climate of fear among Italy's Jews.

On the day of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Rome ten days ago, an elderly Jewish man, Raffi Cohen, was found stabbed to death in the doorway of his home in Rome's Nomentano quarter.

The 74-year-old victim, who ran a small business, was an active member of the local synagogue and well-known in the community. No money was stolen from the body.

Jurists were named on a ‘Jewish mafia’ list

Elsewhere, Israeli students at the University of Genoa and the University of Turin have reported being regularly harassed and intimidated.

High-profile Italian Jewish personalities have learnt to be cautious. Jewish politicians, journalists and jurists were named on a hit-list as "slaves of the Jewish mafia" by a website Holywar.org, illustrated by pictures of handcuffs made in the shape of a Magen David.

Jewish politician Fiamma Nirenstein, vice-president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, is the regular target of newspaper editorials and blog attacks. She was renamed "Fiamma Frankenstein" by newspaper Il Manifesto, which, in 2008, published a caricature of her campaign logo which merged a fascist insignia with a Star of David.

She said: "There are antisemitic attacks all over the internet against me because I speak out about Israel. There are also attacks against the parliamentary Antisemitism Commission, which I chair, which say there's a Jewish conspiracy in parliament, that it's a front for an Israeli lobby. There are also problems in universities, where they often promote boycotts, but that's not so different to many European countries."

But antisemitism and anti-Israeli sentiments are becoming more commonplace outside Islamist and far-left fringes. Last year, a large group of Italian public figures from across the political spectrum signed a petition titled "Hands Off Iran" which referred to the "so-called Holocaust" and argued that "international democracy is violated by Israel in the name of a racist biblical right."

But Ms Nirenstein is optimistic about many fair-minded Italian journalists. "Today there are many journalists who have written articles saying they are sick of seeing Israel take the blame for everything. One is a book called Pierluigi Battista, deputy editor of Corriere della Sera, called A Letter to An Anti-Zionist Friend where he shows that bias against Israel is often antisemitism.

"We have a body called Informazione Corretta, which corrects media bias against Israel. I don't think antisemitism is as bad in Italy as in Britain."

Some of the material used in this story originally appeared in an article on Ynet by Giulio Meotti

Last updated: 2:19pm, June 23 2011