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Concern over Italy's policies on Israel and Jews as populism sweeps the country

Five Star Movement emerges as largest group in new parliament

    Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, arrives for a press conference after his party's election victory
    Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, arrives for a press conference after his party's election victory (Photo: Getty Images)

    Populist parties won a sweeping victory over Italy’s traditional political forces in last week’s elections. 

    The Five Star Movement came out as the largest group in the new parliament, winning 32 per cent, while within the centre-right coalition the anti-immigrant Northern League commanded more support than even former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. 

    The centre-left Democrat Party – in government just two years ago – fell short of the psychologically significant one-fifth barrier to just 18 per cent. 

    “The people have voted, we have been defeated,” wrote Emanuele Fiano, a prominent Jewish member of the Democratic Party, on his Facebook page. 

    “We fell, let’s pick ourselves up.” 

    No party or coalition has enough seats to form a government by alone, setting the scene for a process of forming the government and finding a majority to support that will likely take several weeks at least.  

    Italy’s Jewish community has so far refrained from commenting officially on the results, with independent voices wavering between caution and concern. 

    “Within the Italian Jewish community there are supporters of all the parties – but the Five Star Movement seems to be an exception,” said Jewish historian David Bidussa, author of a 2014 book on the movement, Purest: Beppe Grillo’s New Old Italians.

    “They are an anti-establishment movement, they don’t clearly denounce radical Islam, anti-Israel statements or even antisemitic statements – all characteristics that tend to be a no-go for Italian Jews.” 

    Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi announced he was stepping down
    Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi announced he was stepping down (Photo: Getty Images)

    Mr Bidussa told the JC he was not persuaded by Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio’s recent efforts to portray the party as more pragmatic and reliable.

    Mr Di Maio was forced just days before the election to deny he was biased against Israel after he announced plans to nominate Lorenzo Fioramonti, a staunch supporter of the Israel boycott movement BDS, as a prospective minister. 

    “I believe in concrete projects, not in formal declarations to correct what was already stated,” the historian said.   

    “Italy is a country where when things are not going well, people always tend to blame someone else.”  

    But for Gadi Luzzatto Veoghera, director of the Centre for Jewish Contemporary Documentation, there was reason to be optimistic. 

    “In spite of the media attention, movements that call themselves neo-fascist do not find any supporters in Italy and this sends a comforting message” he told Pagine Ebraiche, an Italian Jewish newspaper.

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