Italy’s Courage

At a time when European nations are turning their backs on Israel, Italy has held steadfast in support of both the Jewish state and its own Jewish citizens. Polls consistently show Italians with the lowest percentage of anti-Semitic views compared to other Europeans, even as anti-Semitism is making a resurgence throughout the continent.

Last week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as the world paid formal tribute to one of the darkest periods in modern history, Italy took it a step further when a local newspaper distributed skullcaps to all of its subscribers in a show of solidarity with Jews.

The daily paper, Foglio, emphasized the move was in response to a French Jewish leader who recently advised Jews to hide their religious identities in public after a French Jew was assaulted with a machete for donning a yarmulke.

In an article that accompanied the free token, the paper asserted that “the West should not obscure its roots and its religious symbols,” and that in response to the surge in anti-Semitism across Europe, “this year we must do more.”

Italy has led the way in commemorating Jewish culture and protecting the rights of Jews in Europe since World War II, and is an active contributor to the fight against anti-Semitism today.

Indeed, Italy was the first country to make January 27, the date of the 1945 Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, a national day of remembrance.

This year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Italian ambassador to Israel Francesco Maria Talo echoed Foglio’s sentiment, emphasizing Italy’s special responsibility to remember the Holocaust: “It is especially important to remember what was done to participate in the persecution…. We have more responsibility and we need to do more,” Talo said.

While these words regrettably will fall on the deaf ears of the many Europeans who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, they will resonate with Israelis, who face a multi-tiered threat from those who continue to seek to undermine the Jewish state. BDS has played a role in inciting the recent wave of killings by Palestinian knife-wielders, and it encourages baseless and misguided rhetorical attacks at academic institutions and college campuses across the world — some of which have  produced violent protests and veiled threats directed at Jewish students and faculty from BDS supporters.

Italy’s brave and lonely position last week is a barometer of its support for Israel. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is an ally of the Jewish State, and last year delivered an eloquent speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on the dangers of the BDS movement. The American Jewish Congress was lucky enough to have him as a guest at our 2012 International Conference of Mayors in Israel while he was the mayor of Florence.

Italy’s ambassador to the UN, Sebastiano Cardi has also been outspoken on the subject of anti-Semitism, addressing the issue at the United Nations General Assembly last year:

“Italy supports multilateral initiatives against anti-Semitism….We must clearly and unanimously condemn every act of anti-Semitism and its ideological roots,” Cardi said.

Given the growth of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiments on the continent, Cardi’s admonition is timely. Selling fear and demonizing the “other” in society is nothing new in Europe. Responsible leadership is an uncommon commodity, and the world should be grateful that Italian leaders have stepped forward to remind us that tolerance and inclusivity must be championed at the highest levels of government.

Italy has become a crucial ally of Israel, and Jews everywhere are thankful that Israel has such a reliable friend in Europe. Just as significant, though, is the example Rome is setting for its continental neighbors, for whom the lessons of liberty and freedom constantly must be reinforced.

About the Author
Jack Rosen is President of the American Jewish Congress and Chairman of the American Council for World Jewry. Twitter @JackRosenNYC.
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