If you prick a Jew, does he not bleed?

When I look at Vauro’s cartoon with my caricature in it, which an Italian court has once again absolved, preferring instead, against all logic, to prosecute Peppino Caldarola for denouncing its implications, I think: Well done, Vauro, you’ve managed to sum up the entire meaning of modern-day anti-Semitism in a single image. Ambiguous, multivalent, firmly anchored in the classic tradition of anti-Semitism: me with a beak nose, a monster, a dehumanized being, the Star of David stitched on just as the Nazis forced the Jews to do, yet modern, aware of the fact that any popular pretext suffices for hating the Jews and sticking it on them, like that PdL [Popolo della Libertà political party] badge alongside the fasces lictoriae stuck on me? Me, of all people? Am I not Fiamma? With my history of feminism? Human rights? Persecuted Iranians? So many books? So much history? No, I’m Vauro’s Jew with the fasces, the Star of David, the schnozz.

(In March 13, 2008, a caricature (see above) by Vauro Senesi of  Fiamma Nirenstein was published in Il Manifesto, an Italian newspaper

Anti-Semitism in the UN might not be a well-known fact, it has never been denounced as such, not since the Holocaust: in 1964, the word “anti-Semitism” was not admitted as reference in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination because, it was said, it was a problem of religious tolerance. It was not included as a form of religious intolerance because it was a racial problem. The UN’s resolutions make no provisions for the effects or consequences for anti-Semites, because such people don’t exist. Even Vauro is not an anti-Semite: There’s no such thing. It’s awkward for a court of law to admit that anti-Semitism exists, although it readily admits all other forms of discrimination and stigma. In the documents of the famous Durban Conference Against Racism, which degenerated into a racist conference against the Jews, the terms “anti-Semitism” and “Holocaust” are absent.

Now anti-Semitism has become a globalized viral disease. The Internet, the media, and colossal migratory movements make it a red and black blanket that covers the entire world, and Europe is infected with it. It takes on a variety of political shades: in Aftonbladet, the tabloid in Sweden, Israeli soldiers are accused of stealing the organs of Palestinians; in France, a boy (Ilan Halimi) is kidnapped and beaten to death while the police search for him on “Rue de la drogue,” or “Drug Street”; in Australia a gang of hooligans strike Jews on the street … everywhere hatred is spread by cartoons like Vauro’s, one of the countless anti-Semitic aggressions that I’ve been targeted by in my life. But I can speak, I can write and travel.

For many years an Italian police escort has protected me from insistent and reiterated threats. But this time Vauro needs to be told: enough with the incitement. I will summons you to appear in the European Court of Human Rights, and I will seek justice because, as Shylock says, are we not fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, and if you prick a Jew, does he not bleed? I bleed, that nose is mine, that contempt for the female body that you make in your cartoons is aimed at my own female body, the Star of David is on my chest; with those wounds you sketch on me to evoke Frankenstein, you’ve actually unconsciously drawn them on a body as bony as those of the dead at Auschwitz, as bony as those of my grandparents. But I’m just fine, thank you very much; as a matter of fact, I’m in Israel at the moment.

I know what anti-Semitism is: I’ve written quite a bit on the subject, including a book titled “Progressive Anti-Semitism.” Not a single person admits to being anti-Semitic. I was also chair of the Parliamentary Committee into Anti-Semitism, which heard dozens of witnesses give testimony and then drafted important conclusions; I’m on the board of the ICCA [Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism], which unites all the parliaments in the world in the fight against anti-Semitism. I have interviewed the most repugnant Nazis. I’m the one who uncovered, in my best scoop as a journalist, who Waldheim really was. I was with Epoca at the time.

I know what anti-Semitism is, what they’re talking about. Taking a glance at the records of the Committee’s work will surprise you, just as reading other books on the subject would, seeing for yourself how widespread anti-Semitism is; it’s time to stop acting like shrinking violets. Now it happens that that Jew Vauro targeted is me, the object of anti-Semitic hatred just like so many other times. I’ve been wearing Vauro’s Star of David since 2008, when he printed the cartoon in Il Manifesto, and it’s not all right. Someone—a decent court of law, the apologies of Il Manifesto, which published it, the intervention of the President of the Republic … someone should have put an end to this slap in the face of the Jewish people. Instead, it’s been repeated by the decision under appeal. Anti-Semitism today is unconscious and even rationalized. Vauro certainly placed that fasces on me, an unspeakable insult, because he is deciding whether or not a Jew can choose to run for office with the PDL. In the past, others decided whether a Jew could own a business, or have a Christian maid, or walk to school with the other students, or work in a bank like my grandfather, who was hunted down at one. Even the little girl who asked me if I had a tail back in elementary school didn’t actually know she was anti-Semitic; she asked out of curiosity.

The girl scouts who wouldn’t let me be squad leader because I wasn’t a Christian didn’t understand it; the PLO representative who telephoned me in threatening tones telling me something was wrong with me, specifically with my head, since all the journalists were writing that the Jews intentionally killed Palestinian children and that I however didn’t realize it (that’s a true story); and even the honorable colleagues on the Council of Europe didn’t know they were anti-Semites as they stood between me and the report on the Middle East (and nevertheless in my life I’ve shown that I know something about it… or didn’t I?), maintaining that this was none of my business because how on earth can a Jew be the reporter on this topic. Those who have accused me of being the head of the Zionist lobby in Italy and in the Chamber don’t know it, as long as I’ve been here. Even all those who have threatened me with death, and there are many, don’t know they’re anti-Semites. It’s a fight against Zionism, a form of colonialism that oppresses the Palestinians, against the Jewish lobby, against the enemies in the media. Those who have most recently set their sights on me and threatened me make copious references to Vauro’s cruel depiction of me. Back then, in 2008, I was an electoral monster. Now, there can be many other reasons to call me that, and they find them all in Vauro’s example: Just look at the websites that hate me. In many hallways I’ve heard whispers about the Jews; in Europe the percentage of people who hate Jews is around 50 percent.

No Jew should ever again have been portrayed the way Vauro depicted me. It is also upsetting how the entire matter has been debated since the first sentence of the people who dealt with the issue in the newspapers. The courageous and superbly decent journalist Peppino Caldarola was the best of all, along with his editor at that time, Antonio Polito. Many who attacked the rulings and thus racism and anti-Semitism in general (and very well also), as my friend Pier Luigi Battista did in Il Corriere, cannot deep in their hearts believe that, beyond a few exaggerations, there is real anti-Semitism out there that strikes at flesh-and-blood Jews. That was forgotten even by Battista, who in his article called me “a Jewish woman,” as well as Ritanna Armeni at the time, who is also so used to seeing clearly into the wounds on the female body, as well as a celebrity I admire, Emanuele Macaluso.

Flesh-and-blood Jews, and me in particular, I wasn’t an object of contempt there. I am one of many Jews who wear the Star of David stitched on. That is my fate, I am the image that counts for nothing, the true anti-Semitism that still exists in Europe is not recognized or understood; it must not exist in our time, given that the post-war world has condemned it, given that ours is, should be, the civilization of human rights and freedom of opinion, except as an abstraction against which loud lamentations are raised on Memorial Day … Has it ever struck anybody as an outrage that Sharon has been drawn gripping the heads of children in his teeth? That the cartoons about Jews that come from the Islamic world by the thousands are full of the blood libel that I myself was accused of the moment a fasces was placed on my chest? It’s enough to wage battle on an adjacent field, the one where no one talks about anything and anti-Semitism is an ideological game. And nevertheless, there are the dead.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (October 30, 2013); English copyright, The Gatestone Institute

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.