A short while after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in an interview with The Spectator (on September 11, 2003) defended his support for the war despite the widespread opposition it had engendered in Italy. In responding to one question, Berlusconi employed a moral distinction between Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein. Mussolini, he said, did not kill.
A storm broke out and the Italian leader hastily apologized to the Jewish community in that country for his stupidity. And justifiably so. After all, under Mussolini not only were racist laws against the Jews passed, Jews were murdered for being Jews. However, when he apologized Berlusconi ignored the masses of Italians who had been tortured and murdered under Fascism, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the use of gas to massacre huge numbers of Ethiopians. He did not apologize for any of these acts.
Nor did the Jewish community in Italy demand that he apologize for them. They were interested only in the Jews who were murdered. Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Rome’s main synagogue, where he belittled even this limited commitment.
The visit was a milestone. Its significance stems from a process which began earlier, and at the conclusion of which Joseph Ratzinger will undoubtedly grant Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) the status of saint. That very same pope who remained silent as, a short walk from his residence, more than 1,000 of Rome’s Jews who had been caught in a series of home raids on October 16, 1943 were sent to their deaths. The same happened throughout the entire war, as well as after it. Under his predecessor, Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli had played an important role in the 1930s in repressing German priests’ opposition to Hitler.
In the culture of memory – in the name of which we’d naively thought that, as Jews, we had moral demands and red lines – Pius XII and his silence held important symbolic value. In 1942, Natan Alterman wrote: “And the ax by night and by day devours / and the Christian father in the city on high / from his holy palace does not emerge / to stand against the pogrom with his savior.” We read that poem on memorial days, but our culture of memory – even as it becomes more fashionable throughout the rest of the world – manages to bend itself to those places where “it is worth our while.” Their culture of memory has turned into our culture of memory.
It is true that some Jewish community leaders were absent from the ceremony in Rome, and it is true that the choir sang “I Believe in the Coming of the Messiah” which includes a defiance of Christianity (“even though he is lingering”) – the tune for which was written in the Warsaw Ghetto before its composer was sent to his death in Treblinka. But what the religious text provided for the Jews of Rome, the community itself did not succeed in doing as a body with a moral stand.
And no wonder. The state of Israel also acts in this way. The pope is not the Turkish ambassador. His chair is not merely high, it is known as the Holy See. Israel will only remind him of the church’s sins when he speaks out against the occupation.
The Holocaust has become part of Europe’s new religion. Under its aegis, one has the right to hate foreigners and migrants. The greatest Islamophobes are also friends of Israel, and the Jewish communities for the most part do not dare to defend the victims of the “new” European racism – Muslims, Africans and Gypsies. Sometimes they consider this xenophobia to be some kind of “victory,” as if the Jewish race has finally succeeded in joining the “white man’s” bandwagon – something it was prevented from doing until the second half of the 20th century.
Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who not only has a violent Fascist background (in the 1960s and ’70s) but is also responsible for making racist statements in the present, is a good example of the new European. Where did he carry out his first “purifying” visit after being elected a year and a half ago? With the Jewish community, of course. And they were glad to receive him. The Italy of Berlusconi, of course, was quick to host Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the first of the Western European nations to do so.
Make no mistake – these are not Jews with a ghetto-like mentality. One can see, in this exact case, an example of the “Jewish pride” as it is understood by the proud and foolish members of our foreign ministry – who seat a Muslim ambassador on a low chair and maintain a prolonged silence – and the Jewish community in Rome, as the present pope dismantles the symbol of the evil of silence.