Antisemitism OK – it's anti-Israelism that matters now

December 17, 2013
Sarah Benton

New best friends: in this handout provided by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvio Berlusconi walk through the grounds of Villa Madama during meetings on June 13, 2011 in Rome. Berlusconi offered to host fresh negotiations in Sicily in an attempt to revive the peace process, but reiterated his opposition to United Nations support for a Palestinian state. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images

When ‘Israel First’ Means Condoning Old-School Anti-Semitism

By Anna Momigliano, Open Zion
December 12, 2013

MILAN, ITALY—“Anti-Semitism in the ancient form” should no longer be the primary concern for Jews across the world, the outgoing chairwoman of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians Fiamma Nirenstein told the Jerusalem Post earlier this week. Rather than worrying about the hatred of Jews, she suggests we focus on the hatred against Israel instead.

Now, I see one big problem with this “Israel first” attitude. To put it bluntly: it often leads to making everything else a secondary—that is, expendable—issue.

This, unfortunately, includes topics that should be at the very heart of Jewish interests, such as the freedom to practice other religions in predominantly Christian countries—and, of course, “Anti-Semitism in the ancient form.”

The sad truth is that at some point old-school Anti-Semitism has begun to be perceived as tolerable even among Jewish circles—and all in the name of the “Israel first” philosophy. This is especially true in Italy, where offensive comments about Jews are often downplayed, as long as they come from self-described “friends of Israel” (more often than not, this means right-wingers).

Take Ms. Nirenstein’s case, for example. A recent immigrant to Israel, she has served as a member of the Italian Parliament with Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom People Party. Moreover, she is well known in Italy as one of the most prominent pro-Berlusconi journalists. Both facts have been interestingly omitted by the Jerusalem Post.

Berlusconi has often been caught expressing disturbing views on Jewish history. He has recently compared his experience of being convicted for tax fraud to the persecution of Jews under Nazism. He apologized a few days later, at a dinner table with the head of Rome’s Jewish community. On several occasions Berlusconi has praised Benito Mussolini, whose regime contributed to the slaughter of 7,000 Italian Jews by the Nazis; he even had the chutzpah to do so while speaking at a ceremony commemorating Holocaust victims.

All these facts have been reported not only in the Italian but also in the international media. What is less known outside of Italy, perhaps, is that Berlusconi’s party has often sided with, and in some cases even included, right-wing extremists who have done little to conceal their anti-Semitic views.

Believe it or not, a politician of the Freedom People Party has openly used the word “Jew” as an insult—not in a private conversation, but in an official speech at the Parliament.

“I hope you have some yarmulkes ready,” senator Giuseppe Ciarrapico told a former fellow FPP parliamentarian who had announced the formation of a more moderate conservative party in 2010. What he meant was that wearing a kippah, i.e. being Jewish, was per se an indication of untrustworthiness. There’s some twisted humor in this story: the victim of his insult, Gianfranco Fini, wasn’t even Jewish. Indeed Fini used to be an activist of a neo-Fascist group, in his youth years…just like Ciarrapico himself.

Ms. Nirenstein, who was a fellow FPP parliamentarian of Ciarrapico’s at the time, described the incident as “intolerable” at first. But she has since been quoted saying that “Ciarrapico is always better than D’Alema,” in reference to Massimo D’Alema, a high-profile member of the left-leaning Democratic Party whose pro-Palestinian opinions are well known.

Honestly, I doubt that quote is correct—it seems a very media un-savvy thing to say that openly. Yet I worry there’s a growing perception among conservative Jews that the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” i.e. the opposition to the State of Israel, constitutes a more severe offense than the traditional, old-school anti-Semitism, i.e. the hatred of Jews regardless of Israel.

Ms. Nirenstein has argued herself, in an often-quoted 2003 article, that “the Left is the new cradle of anti-Semitism,” because of its criticism of the State of Israel.

This is a very dangerous way of thinking, for several reasons.

First, as has often been noted, accusing people of anti-Semitism because of their criticism of Israel is intellectually disingenuous and may even prove counter-productive. While an anti-Semitism-fueled opposition to the State of Israel certainly exists, any sane person should agree that Israel is subject to public scrutiny just like all other nations in the world.

The thing is, there’s more to this story. Especially in countries like Italy, where actual old-school anti-Semitic views are still relatively widespread.

According to a recent poll, about 10 percent of Italians believe that “you really can’t trust Jews” and that “Jews aren’t really Italians” (in case you were wondering, Italy had a Jewish community before it even had a Christian presence). Based on my personal experience and anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances, anti-Semitic insults are not very common, but not unheard of either.

What worries me, though, is that a growing sector of the Italian Jewish public has come to condone a certain degree of this traditional anti-Semitism, because they feel they should save their energies—and their own self-respect, I might add—for the defense of Israel.

I wonder, moreover, if this is a problem of Italian Jewry alone, or if other small, heavily pro-Israel communities across Europe are facing the same challenge.

The problem with the “Israel first” and “new anti-Semitism” approach is not so much that it makes of the State of Israel a priority and of the criticism of Israel an offense. The real danger lies in the implication that the freedom and dignity of Jews in the diaspora is somewhat of an expendable asset. That if anti-Semitism is taking new forms, then its old forms should be accepted, to a certain extent.

Seriously, I worry.

Maybe, when Jewish leaders start telling you shouldn’t worry about anti-Semitism, you should start worrying, too.

Berlusconi: My Family Feels Like Jews Persecuted by Hitler

Comparison draws outraged responses from politicians and Italy’s Jewish community

By Dan Kedmey,
November 07, 2013

Silvio Berlusconi once called himself the “most persecuted man in the world,” but he has recently discovered another group of people who may understand the depths of his suffering. According to NBC News, Berlusconi said in a recently published interview that he and his family “feel like Jewish families in Germany under Hitler’s regime.”

More than six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Berlusconi and his five children have been pinched by legal fees.

The comparison drew outrage from Italy’s politicians and members of the Jewish community. No word yet on whether Berlusconi feels he should give an apology or receive one.

Netanyahu Gets Berlusconi’s Support to Stop Palestinian Recognition at UN

By Jonathan Ferziger, Bloomberg news
June 13, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured Italian help in his campaign to peel away European support for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September.

“I don’t think this in any way would contribute to bringing peace,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a press conference in Rome today after a two-hour meeting with the Israeli leader at the Villa Madama government compound.

Netanyahu has been making repeated visits to Europe as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas prepares a formal statehood proposal to be presented at this year’s annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in three months. He said statehood should be the result of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the UN effort would only complicate the Middle East peace process.

The two leaders and accompanying Cabinet ministers from both countries also signed a series of eight agreements aimed at boosting Italian-Israeli cooperation in tourism, education and economic development. The press conference took place in a white tent in which Berlusconi had a wall-size painting of nymphs surrounding a male harpist by the 18th century Italian artist Andrea Appiani brought in as a backdrop.

UN Effort

Abbas has said he will seek UN recognition for a new Palestinian state if peace negotiations with Israel remain stalemated. The two sides most recently held formal talks last September. Abbas has said he won’t return to the table unless Israel freezes Jewish settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, steps Netanyahu has rejected.

Netanyahu, 61, thanked Berlusconi for supporting his stance on Palestinian statehood, saying peace “will only come from negotiations. It cannot be imposed by one side, and not by one- sided UN resolutions.” He called the Italian prime minister “a great friend of Israel.”

The Israeli prime minister has made similar trips since April to the U.K., France, Germany and the Czech Republic and made the same point about the UN during a five-day visit to Washington last month. He plans to visit Romania and Bulgaria next month, according to a senior aide.

“We don’t believe a unilateral solution can help peace,” Berlusconi said. “I believe peace can only be reached with a common effort, that is, with negotiations.”


Netanyahu said the issue of building West Bank settlements can also be decided only in direct talks and not as a precondition for negotiations. As he declared in Washington, Netanyahu said Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state for peace talks to be successful.

“It would resolve the whole problem,” he said. “The root of the problem is the refusal to recognize a Jewish state.”

Netanyahu also discussed Iran with Berlusconi, 74, asserting the Islamic republic will only give up its nuclear program if it faces a “credible military option.”

Netanyahu yesterday met Mayor Giovanni Alemanno at Rome’s city hall, where a poster of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was hanging outside. Shalit has been held by Palestinian militants for five years since being captured from a tank outside the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu said he hoped other European cities would join efforts to demand Shalit’s release from Hamas, the Palestinian organization that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the European Union and the U.S.

Lobbying Support

Israel’s foreign ministry has instructed diplomats abroad to explain that a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would undermine all internationally accepted frameworks for peace and violate existing agreements, according to a telegram sent to embassies and obtained by Bloomberg.

Netanyahu has also said that he won’t return to negotiations if Abbas moves ahead on his commitment to form a new government supported by Hamas, the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Abbas, whose Fatah movement rules the West Bank, signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo last month, agreeing to assemble an interim unity government with Hamas and hold new elections.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe visited Netanyahu and Abbas earlier this month to propose that they hold a meeting in Paris aimed at resurrecting peace negotiations and avoid a showdown at the UN. Abbas was sympathetic to the idea while Netanyahu agreed to study the plan and consult with the U.S. before responding, Juppe said.

Netanyahu rejected Obama’s proposal in Washington to use boundaries from before the 1967 Six-Day War combined with exchanges of territory as a starting point for peace negotiations, calling them “indefensible.” The 1967 lines define the boundaries of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were all captured in the war that year from Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Rome through the Tel Aviv newsroom at

Berlusconi Using Holocaust to Describe his ‘Suffering’

This was not the former Italian prime minister’s first bizarre use of the Holocaust.

By Yori Yanover, The Jewish Press
November 06, 2013

You know a politician has lost all shame when he enlists the memory of the Holocaust to describe his legal or business troubles. But when that allusion is used by Former Italian prime minister Silvio “bunga bunga” Berlusconi, the closest thing Italy has had to the emperor Caligula since 37-41 CE, it gets special attention.

OMG, Silvio Berlusconi, who was charged with paying for sex with a minor, is complaining that his children feel persecuted just like Jewish families in Nazi Germany, their father was being hounded by Italian magistrates who want to destroy him.

The children, have pity on the children… not the ones I’ve used for nightclub entertainment—my own children… On June 24, 2013, Berlusconi was found guilty of paying nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug for sex when she was 17 years old, and of abusing his powers in the cover up of that sensitive event. He was sentenced to seven years in jail, and banned from public office for life.

This was not his first bizarre use of the Holocaust. Back in 2003, during a particularly raucous of the European Parliament, Berlusconi compared Martin Schulz—a German Social Democrat now serving as president of the assembly—to a Nazi concentration camp “commandant.” Frustrated at the criticism launched at him from the Social Democrat speakers, Schulz included, Berlusconi declared: “Mr Schulz, I know that there is in Italy a producer producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of commandant. You would be perfect for that role.” Later, he tried to backtrack by saying it was all just an ironic jest: “If people are not able to understand irony, I am very sorry, that’s too bad, but I am not withdrawing what I said with irony.”

Reuters is citing Berlusconi’s newest Holocaust comments from an advance excerpt, released on Wednesday, of an interview with him by Italian television journalist Bruno Vespa. Vespa asks the disgraced former prime minister if his five children are asking him to sell his media empire and leave Italy to get away from his legal troubles. Berlusconi responds: “My children say that they feel like Jewish families in Germany under Hitler’s regime. Truly, everyone is against us.” Really stunning.

At this point, the Reuters reported quips, for the record: “Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler murdered an estimated six million Jews during World War Two.” So now we know how the Berlusconi kids must be feeling. Some of us just live with the memory of the Holocaust every day… Such as last January, when, at a Holocaust memorial in Rome, Berlusconi defended dictator Benito Mussolini, but without outright endorsing Il Duce’s 1938 anti-Jewish legislation. In Berlusconi’s abridged Italian history, the government at that time, out of fear of the Germans, preferred to ally itself with Hitler. And, so, “as part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews,” he told reporters, while actual Jewish Holocaust survivors were standing nearby. “The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well.”

Trains ran on time. At least the ones loaded with Jews.

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