A populist protest leader’s comments on Jews and banking has drawn condemnation from Jewish and non-Jewish leaders.

Andrea Zunino, spokesman for the Forconi, or Pitchforks Movement, which spearheaded widespread anti-government and anti-austerity protests in Italy last week, made the comment in an interview Friday with the La Repubblica newspaper.

“We want the government to resign,” he told La Repubblica. “We want the sovereignty of Italy, which today is slave to the bankers, like the Rothschilds. It is curious that five or six of the richest people in the world are Jews, but this is something I need to investigate.”

Zunino “is powered by the most violent and sinister anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement.

Gattegna said Zunino offends not only the memory of Holocaust victims but “above all the intelligence, democratic conscience, and maturity of the Italian people whose instances he wants to represent, clearly inadequately, in streets and piazzas across the country.”

Under the loose umbrella of the Forconi Movement, also known as the December 9 movement, thousands of Italians took to the streets last week to protest the political system, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government, the European Union, austerity and globalization.

The protests brought together widely divergent groups from the right and left.

Condemnation of Forconi’s statement also came from outside the Jewish world. According to the Il Messaggero newspaper, Foad Aodi, president of the Community of the Arab World in Italy organization, called Zunino’s words “delusional, dangerous and manipulative regarding religions and the Jewish religion.”

Center-right parliament member Elena Centemero said, “We cannot support those who, to express their dissent, choose violent shortcuts, lawlessness or recourse to anachronistic and unfounded accusations and stereotypes such as those against people of the Jewish religion.”
The Anti-Defamation League also condemned the remarks.

“These appalling comments display a deep-seated anti-Semitic hatred which never belongs in politics or anywhere in Italian society,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. “Whatever grievances the Italian protest movement may have, anti-Semitism is simply unacceptable.”