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As Italy prepares to vote, there are fears of rising intolerance and hatred

Five Star candidates, some supporting an Israel boycott, expected to perform strongly in Sunday's election

    Thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators met in Palermo last Saturday, February 24
    Thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators met in Palermo last Saturday, February 24 (Photo: Getty Images)

    There were tens of thousands of people in Italy’s capital last weekend, barely a week before the country’s general election this coming Sunday. All had gathered to march against fascism and racism.

    The demonstration, backed by the Jewish umbrella group UCEI, was a show of solidarity against extremism in an election campaign that has been marred by episodes of intolerance and hatred.

    The angry rhetoric culminated at the beginning of this month in a shooting incident in the city of Macerata, where Luca Traini, a 28-year-old who previously ran as a candidate for the right-wing Northern League, shot several African immigrants in the streets, injuring six people.

    The act was condemned by Northern League leader Matteo Salvini. But in distancing himself from the shooter, Mr Salvini — who has claimed Italy’s fascist regime under Benito Mussolini also did “good things” — blamed “those who fill Italy with illegal immigrants”.

    His view that fascist and racist attitudes no longer exist in Italy is shared by more mainstream politicians, including the centre-right Forza Italia under Silvio Berlusconi and the nationalist Fratelli d’Italia, led by Giorgia Meloni.

    Both parties joined members of the populist Five Star Movement in parliament last year to oppose a law that would have introduced harsher measures to combat fascist propaganda.

    Lorenzo Fioramonti, the BDS supporter and possible Five Star minister
    Lorenzo Fioramonti, the BDS supporter and possible Five Star minister (Photo: Wikimedia)

    For many Italian Jewish leaders and intellectuals, there has been a reawakening of intolerance in Italy.

    Historian Anna Foa has pointed out that 2018 was the eightieth anniversary of the country’s racial laws, which codified discrimination against Italian Jews. “[This] culture of race was the scenario that allowed the discrimination and eventually the persecution and annihilation of Jews,” she said at a ceremony to mark Holocaust Memorial Day last month.

    Jews were excluded from public office and university education under the first laws introduced in 1938, on the eve of the Second World War. Further measures stripped Italian Jews of their assets and interned them.

    But in recent years, most Italian Jews have supported right wing parties. In a 2012 study, 39 per cent said they felt most comfortable with the right or centre right. A quarter said “no one”; just 15 pe cent supported the left.

    Italy has undergone substantial political upheaval with three left-leaning governments since 2013. One was led by Matteo Renzi, who built strong ties with Italy’s Jewish communities by making the fight against antisemitism a priority.

    The biggest game-changer has been the advent of Five Star, but any Jewish supporters are hard to track down, perhaps because the party’s politicians appeared to lack any empathy on issues like Holocaust remembrance.

    The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, for example, did not attend the funeral in 2016 of Settimio Piattelli, one of the city’s last Shoah survivors, or even send a representative. It took her two days to tweet condolences to the family and the Jewish community — and when she did, she used a photograph of someone else.

    On Tuesday, the movement’s candidate for prime minister Luigi Di Maio announced his choice for Economic Development minister would be Lorenzo Fioramonti, a staunch supporter of BDS.

    The latest polls suggest Five Star will win the most votes in Sunday’s election, but this does not guarantee power under Italy’s complicated election rules.

    But the possibility of a government led by Mr Di Maio is sufficient to worry many in the Jewish community.

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