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The Italian right turns against anti-Semitism

The right has faced up to its unmentionable past, while Jew-hatred spreads like wildfire on the left.

Newly elected Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 26, 2022. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Newly elected Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 26, 2022. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Fiamma Nirenstein

“Tragic irremediable darkness” was how Giorgia Meloni, who is now poised to become Italy’s next prime minister, described the events of Oct. 16, 1943. On that day, she said in her condolence text, “the Nazi-Fascist fury” undertook the “vile and inhumane deportation of Roman Jews … torn from life—women, men and children, house by house.”

Meloni, who was accused of being a “post-fascist” anti-Semite during the recent election campaign, added that the deportation of Rome’s Jews must be remembered “by all Italians” in order to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.

Her condolences come as one of many such messages from all of Italy’s political parties, in remembrance of the 1,259 innocent people, including 207 children, who were dragged from their homes at dawn, half-stripped and terrified, all sent to die at Auschwitz.

Meloni’s strong words were not unusual. Equally intense language was used by Senate President Ignazio La Russa and House Speaker Lorenzo Fontana, along with other right-wing figures. Former Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia Party, Silvio Berlusconi, called the deportation “a barbarity we cannot forget” and Lega Nord Party leader Matteo Salvini emphasized, “Anti-Semitism must never be underestimated or, worse, tolerated.”

This strident rhetoric is part of the Italian right’s unprecedentedly strong stance on fighting anti-Semitism. For Meloni and her Brothers of Italy Party, this is more than anything else an educational task, especially among children and students who are often abysmally ignorant of Jews and Jewish history, including the Holocaust. Meloni certainly knows this.

For the Italian right as a whole, this growing pro-Jewish attitude is part of a process that has been underway for some time. When former president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, knelt in mourning at Yad Vashem in 2003, he had already been accused of opportunism by the left and betrayal by the right for years. But in fact, the accusations against him, including anti-Semitic slanders, led to perhaps his most noteworthy political achievement. When Fini spoke in Israel about the Holocaust as “an abyss of infamy,” the right’s denial of its unmentionable past shattered, and anti-Semitism at last became taboo. No one on the right could boast of hating the Jews anymore.

Moreover, Israel has become much more visible and appreciated on the Italian right. Berlusconi followed his personal, instinctual sympathy with the Jewish people and enacted a new, revolutionary policy of rapprochement with Israel. This turned back the tide of years of Christian Democratic and Communist hostility.

Meloni’s words of condolence, in the midst of her efforts to form a government, are an expression of her determination to combat the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism. She has accepted the challenge and we will see how she does.

Above all, we should remember that the new anti-Semitism is not found only on the right. It infects all political factions, and has spread like wildfire on the left in particular.

Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is the author of Jewish Lives Matter.

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