Italian politician and comedian Beppe Grillo has refused to apologise for using Primo Levi’s Shoah poem If This is a Man to attack the government — and employed a series of classic antisemitic tropes to defend his actions.
Last week, Five Star Movement leader Mr Grillo published on his blog his own version of Primo Levi’s poem. He gave it the title “If this is a Country” and replaced the references to the Holocaust with allusions to the evils of the Italian government.
Mr Grillo also posted a photo of the sign above the gates of Auschwitz — which reads Arbeit macht frei (Work makes free) — retouched to read “P2 macht frei”. P2 is a Masonic lodge that many Italians claim hosts a cabal of politicians and business heads who secretly run government.
Renzo Gattegna, president of the Italian Jewish community, said Mr Grillo’s words were “an obscenity against which we cannot remain silent.
“They provoke attitudes of antisemitism by straddling the popular discontent that increases during these times of crisis.” Mr Gattegna accused Mr Grillo of “criminal desecration of the value of the memory of millions of innocent victims”.
In a rambling press conference, Mr Grillo hit out at Mr Gattegna, saying that the criticism of his blog was based on a misunderstanding for which the “stupid, ignorant, not very intelligent spokespersons” of the Jewish community were to blame. “They should be fired,” he said.
Mr Grillo added: “When you touch the powerful, these things surface, these lobbies, lobbies of business. It is they who hide behind certain tragedies… Who is behind Carlo De Benedetti [an Italian Jewish industrialist], who is behind the banks, behind the finance?”
This financial power, Mr Grillo said, “causes Holocausts once a year, once a month, once a day… Rwanda, the gas in Syria… the financial and banking systems cause thousands of deaths every year.”
Recent polls show that 25 per cent of the Italian electorate backs Mr Grillo. His opponents fear a strong showing by his anti-EU Five Star Movement in May’s European Parliament elections.