Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Italy, beware of the slow-release poison pill

A recent study commissioned by the Solomon Observatory on Discrimination, an Italian Zionist think-tank, which was conducted by Euromedia Research, a statistical analysis organization, documents a chilling reality. The study demonstrates that classical 19th century anti-Semitism is still alive and well throughout the Italian peninsula. More worryingly, that it has evolved and developed subtly as a weapon that propels the ethnic or “racist” variant of political Jew-hatred into the 21st century: bias and hostility are expressed openly with iconographic and lexical forms that are increasingly becoming more and more aggressive.

According to Euromedia, contemporary anti-Semitism continues to perpetuate old stereotypes and myths about Jews. Those at the top of the list are that they dominate the world economy and practice social prevarication against Gentiles. Yet new manifestations of bias have now been thrown into the mix, namely the State of Israel, which identifies with the party of evil and guilt whenever a case may be at issue.

Surprisingly, the Shoah itself has not yet been fully grasped despite Holocaust education efforts and annual Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations across the country. The data of this particular study unveils a disheartening story: while 10.5 percent of those interviewed believe that the Shoah has been exaggerated and its proportions were lesser than narrated by history, 1.3 percent negate the Holocaust altogether.

Youths between the ages of 18-24 are the most cognizant of anti-Semitic prejudice while those aged 25-44 are the most biased, more so than adults over 45.

Party affiliation also plays a relevant role in this study. Italians who vote for Forza Italia, a party sympathetic to Zionism and sensitive to Jewish issues, were less likely to hold negative views about Israel and Jews. On the other hand, the greatest anti-Semitic attitudes among Italians is found among those who vote for the following parties: the Northern League, the Five Star Movement and the Brothers of Italy – all parties that are generally perceived as “outsiders” and hostile to Rome’s national politics despite the fact that the Northern League is the oldest party in the Italian Parliament today.

A certain apathy vis-à-vis anti-Semitism also emerges among voters of Italy’s left-leaning parties, namely the Democratic Party and Italia Viva – both of which hold markedly pro-Arab stances.

Italian voters of centrist and libertarian orientation, who today suffer the least political representation in Italy, are warmest to the State of Israel and hold the least bias and prejudice against not only the latter, but also Jews in general.

According to the poll’s findings, anti-Semitism is the product of a general climate of hatred, as well as a consequence and corollary of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

However, the most significant revelation is also the most alarming. Alongside classical anti-Semitism a new devious breed of anti-Zionism masks anti-Semitism behind the guise of political criticism against the State of Israel. Not too long ago, an Italian court held it lawful to display a banner on the Grand Synagogue in the historic Jewish quarters of Vercelli, near Turin, bearing the inscription “Israel – murderers.”  In short, the ideology of Jews as jointly and severely liable for the actions of the State of Israel has gone mainstream, together with a stubborn view of Israel as being part and parcel of the collective Jew.

Israel’s thriving democracy is rightly open to criticism. However, unfair and biased attacks against Israel or Jews who support Israel need to be condemned and countered.

For this very reason, as early as 2016, the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) developed a working definition of anti-Semitism including 11 operational examples illustrating bias, hostility and prejudice in the context of modern anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition is clear and unequivocal. If used to give guidelines to the courts, it would relieve judges from having to determine what constitutes anti-Semitism on a case-by-case basis.

In January 2020, the Italian Government adopted the IHRA definition and appointed Milena Santerini, a professor of pedagogy in Milan as its Special Envoy for the fight against anti-Semitism. Santerini is faced with no easy task. She will be judged by her effectiveness in promoting the adoption of the IHRA definition at all levels in Italy and in pushing a national agenda to combat anti-Semitism.

Fortunately, there are additional encouraging signs. The Republican Party of Italy (PRI), forever a staunch supporter of Zionism, was the first political party to formally adopt the IHRA definition. It is expected that other parties in Italy will follow suit.

The IHRA definition may also promote a cultural shift and a more balanced view of Zionism. Anti-Zionism is a slow-release poison pill that attacks Jewish identity at its historical, spiritual and psychological core.  Italia Atlantica’s Israel analyst Niram Ferretti puts it bluntly: denying the millenary link of the Jewish people with the Land of Israel means denying not only the Jewish people, but more importantly, their right to exist.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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