Even before this summer’s Gaza war, which spawned a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment across Europe, and recent high-profile attacks on Jewish institutions in Brussels and Paris, over 60 percent of Italian Jews considered anti-Semitism a large or a very large problem in Italy. Additionally, two-thirds believe it has significantly increased in the past five years, according to a new study released Tuesday by the London-based Jewish Policy Research.
The Italy report was published on the JPR website and is called “From Old and New Directions Perceptions and Experiences of Antisemitism Among Jews in Italy.” It is based on data gathered until the end of 2012, a year which saw what is considered a turning point for contemporary European Jewry, the Toulouse massacre at a Jewish day school where Mohammed Merah, a French Muslim man, shot and killed a rabbi and three children.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola authored the document together with the senior research fellow at JPR L. D. Staetsky. In an interview with The Times of Israel, DellaPergola explained that the trends portrayed in the survey anticipated and mirror the situation of deep and growing concern about anti-Semitism that is found today — and will likely worsen in the future.
The survey was sponsored by the European Union through its Fundamental Rights Agency, a sponsorship that, alongside the survey’s methodology, DellaPergola finds remarkable.
“For the first time [the survey] was based on the idea of asking the Jews themselves how they feel about anti-Semitism,” DellaPergola told The Times of Israel.
According to DellaPergola, the situation of anti-Semitism in Italy as perceived by Italian Jews is not radically different from other countries in Europe. The majority of them view it as a problem and denounce its growth over the previous five years.
To Italian Jews, however, anti-Semitism comes only seventh in the ranking of selected social and economic issues that, according to the respondents, represent a very big or a fairly big problem in the country. Other more pressing concerns include unemployment, which was cited by 98% of respondents, government corruption (96%), state of the economy (95%), racism (81%), crime levels (71%) and immigration (65%).
“Moreover, something that varies from country to country is what are considered the ideological sources of anti-Semitism. In Italy over 60% of respondents have indicated left-wing views, followed by right-wing views, while Islam comes only in the third place, something very different from what happens in France for example,” DellaPergola said.
In the aftermath of the recent Paris attacks, the differences between Italy and France have been constantly underlined by Italian Jewish leaders, who said Italian Jews are alert and vigil, but not afraid.
“Anti-Semitism is an ancient evil and a threat that must always be taken into consideration. However Italian Jews are aware of being an essential part of the free, pluralist and democratic Italy which was built on the ashes of the Holocaust and of the Nazi-fascist crimes,” the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna told The Times of Israel. “Jewish life in Italy goes on as usual and there is no fear of appearing in public as what we are, identifying as Jews.”
Gattegna also pointed out the number of anti-Semitic episodes in Italy is much lower than in France, both in terms of number and of gravity. He said “the excellent cooperation” with Italian authorities and police forces has so far neutralized every threat against Jews.
Italian Jewish MP Emanuele Fiano, a member of the center-left Democratic Party and son of a Holocaust survivor, agreed.
“What happened in France is connected to the Islamic fanaticism that has reached Europe and is very troubling. However, French Jews have to deal with an immediate and constant fear because of the large minority of Arab origin and the reiterated attacks perpetrated against them, something that today is not the reality of Italy,” Fiano told The Times of Israel.
“However, although Italian Jews are not in danger, nobody should think that the battle is won in any way,” Fiano said.
“We must remember that the fight against discrimination and racism will always be uphill, especially when it comes to educating the new generations. Nowadays, even in parliament there are MPs with very confused ideas about these topics,” he said.
A litmus test for Italian society’s attitudes toward anti-Semitism is Holocaust Memorial Day, which was observed in Italy on January 27, as it has been for 15 years.
A survey released on January 26 by research institute SWG Lab in collaboration with Pagine Ebraiche, the main Italian Jewish paper, showed the percentage of the respondents from the broader Italian society who have a positive view of the role of the Holocaust Memorial Day is generally very high. However, the number of people with a negative perspective is distinctly growing, from 11% in 2014 to 21% in 2015.
The survey is based on data gathered on January 20-21, 2015. Interestingly, it found the percentage of Italians who think that anti-Semitism still exists in the country dropped to 44% — a decrease from 46% in 2014.
This data seems a clear underestimation compared to the perception of Italian Jews.
“It is very important that the initiatives for Holocaust Memorial Day are constantly updated, in order to pass on the message that the day is about remembering what the Nazis did to the Jews, but also to teach a universal lesson against genocide and extermination which still occur, although in different ways,” said Fiano.
Newly elected Italian president Sergio Mattarella took office on February 3. In his first statement as president, Mattarella emphasized the need to learn from the horrors of the past to overcome the terror of the present. On Sunday he visited the Memorial of the Ardeatine Caves near Rome, where Nazis shot 335 people, among them 75 Jews, in 1944.
“The alliance between nations and people succeeded in defeating the Nazis’ racist, anti-Semitic and totalitarian hatred which this site painfully symbolizes. The very same unity in Europe and in the world will enable us to defeat those who want to drag us into a new season of terror,” Mattarella said.