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Italy’s new far-right prime minister meets with Jewish groups, decries antisemitism

Giorgia Meloni notes ‘worrisome growth’ in online Jew-hatred during meeting as she works to distance her party from its neofascist past

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni talks to journalists during a press conference to present the 2023 proposed budget in Rome, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni talks to journalists during a press conference to present the 2023 proposed budget in Rome, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni insisted on the “essential importance” of Italy’s Jewish community for the nation and Europe during a meeting Wednesday with the head of the World Jewish Congress and Italian Jewish groups.

Meloni’s office issued a readout of the meeting as she seeks to distance her far-right Brothers of Italy party, which has its roots in a post-World War II neofascist movement, from Italy’s anti-Jewish racial laws and the suppression of democracy under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The statement said that during the meeting “there emerged full agreement on the need for a strong and more incisive common commitment to combat every form of antisemitism, a phenomenon in worrisome growth including on the web and social networks.”

It said Meloni “underlined the essential importance of Jewish communities for the Italian and European national identity.”

The Brothers of Italy has its origins in the Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which was founded in 1946 by former Mussolini officials and drew fascist sympathizers into its ranks. It remained a small far-right party until the 1990s, when it became the National Alliance and worked to distance itself from its neofascist past.

Meloni was a member of the youth branches of MSI and the National Alliance, and founded Brothers of Italy in 2012, keeping the tricolor flame symbol of the MSI in her party logo.

Italian election frontrunner Giorgia Meloni speak during a campaign rally on September 20, 2022 in Palermo, Sicily.(Igor Petyx/ANSA/AFP)

During the campaign, amid Democratic Party warnings that she represented a danger to democracy, Meloni insisted that the Italian right had “handed fascism over to history for decades now,” and had condemned racial laws and the suppression of democracy.

The World Jewish Congress didn’t respond when asked to comment about the meeting with Meloni. In addition to WJC president Ronald Lauder, participants also included the head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, and the head of Rome’s Jewish Community, Ruth Dureghello.

Meloni is Italy’s first far-right leader since Mussolini led the country in World War II.

As a teenage political activist, Meloni praised Mussolini as “a good politician.”

After being elected an MP for National Alliance in 2006, she shifted her tone, saying the dictator had made “mistakes,” notably the racial laws, his authoritarianism and entering World War II on the side of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

During her campaign earlier this year, she expressed her support for Israel on several occasions, including by highlighting “shared values” with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Her party, she added, “unambiguously condemns Nazism and communism” and “fiercely opposes any anti-democratic drift.” The Italian right, she also said, “consigned fascism to history decades ago, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Meloni on her election victory late last month, saying he looked forward to “working together to strengthen the ties between Jerusalem and Rome,” and cooperating “in the fight against antisemitism.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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