Rivlin expresses ‘horror’ at death threats against Italian Holocaust survivor
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Rivlin expresses ‘horror’ at death threats against Italian Holocaust survivor

In letter to Liliana Segre, a senator-for-life who received security detail following online anti-Semitic threats, president invites her to Israel

Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre speaks with young students on the occasion of an Holocaust remembrance, at the Arcimboldi theatre in Milan, Italy, January 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre speaks with young students on the occasion of an Holocaust remembrance, at the Arcimboldi theatre in Milan, Italy, January 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday wrote an open letter to a Holocaust survivor and a senator-for-life in Italy who has been assigned a security guard due to torrential online death threats against her.

Liliana Segre recently called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism, following revelations that she is subject to 200 social media attacks each day. Parliament approved her motion, but without votes from Italy’s right-wing parties.

Due to the threats against the 89-year-old Segre, Milan prefect Renato Saccone convened a meeting last Wednesday with security officials, during which the Carabinieri paramilitary police security detail was ordered, according to Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

“I was appalled to hear the news that anti-Semitic threats against you require you to receive protection to ensure your safety, and deeply regret that the circumstances of me writing to you are so distressing,” Rivlin wrote in his letter, which was posted to his Twitter account on Sunday.

Rivlin commended Segre for her “strength and bravery” and expressed his “horror and disgust” at the threats, adding that they were “yet another example of the reality for Jews in Europe today.” He urged her to “carry on doing what you believe in.”

“It would be a great honor, personally and for the State of Israel, to welcome you to Jerusalem and to visit Israel,” the president concluded.

Israel’s ambassador to Italy last week tweeted his dismay about the threats. “An 89-year-old survivor under escort symbolizes the danger that the Jewish communities in Europe still are facing today,” said Ambassador Dror Eydar.

The Yad Vashem museum on Sunday also condemned the online abuse.

“It is unacceptable that hate and xenophobia still plague our post-Holocaust society. Holocaust survivors like Senator Segre are living witnesses to the horrors that are possible when antisemitism goes unchecked,” Yad Vashem said in a statement.

Segre was 13 when she was sent to Auschwitz, where her father and paternal grandparents were killed. She has spent the last several decades recounting her experiences during the Holocaust to young people.

The vote earlier this month, along with a round of racist chants in a soccer stadium, has focused attention on a growing boldness in anti-Semitic and racist attitudes in Italy, and the role of politicians in sanctioning them.

President Reuven Rivlin during a meeting with Shas party members at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Matteo Salvini’s euroskeptic League party, Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy all abstained on Segre’s motion, in a move that defied the social consensus that has marked Italian postwar politics.

Meloni said she abstained because the commission didn’t address the role of Islamic extremism in anti-Semitism. Salvini said he was worried the motion would introduce limits on freedom of expression and that “the left would pass off for racism what for us is the belief or the right to say ‘Italians first.'” In a similar vein, Forza Italia called the commission an attempt at “political censure.”

Riccardo Pacifici, the former leader of Rome’s Jewish community and a member of the Shoah Foundation of Rome, said the reasons given for the abstentions could be taken at face value.

“But if we should discover that the real reason for which they didn’t vote was because they feared losing the consensus of the extreme right, I believe that Jews will have a problem also in Italy,” Pacifici said.

The Milan-based Center of Contemporary Jewish Documents’ Observatory on Anti-Jewish Prejudice, which disclosed the hateful messages directed toward Segre on social media, says anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in Italy, particularly online. Through the end of September, 190 anti-Semitic incidents had been reported this year to the observatory, 120 of them on social media. That compares with 153 anti-Semitic incidents for all of 2018 and 91 for all of 2017.

Illustrative: Swastikas and graffiti calling for the release of soccer hooligans and swastikas are seen on a wall outside Rome’s Olympic stadium, February 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Examples include defamation, direct insults or downplaying Nazism, with rare cases of threats or aggression, including a Jewish woman who was slapped this year in the northern province of Cuneo and a Jewish professor who was spat upon in Rome.

The rise in anti-Semitism has come alongside a rising climate of intolerance toward migrants arriving from Libya that was stoked during Salvini’s tenure as interior minister, which was marked by his refusal to allow humanitarian rescue ships to land in Italy.

Incidents of racism are also making headlines, such as monkey chants aimed at forward Mario Balotelli during a top-tier soccer game Sunday. Balotelli, who is black, was visibly upset and threatened to leave the field, but Salvini, a soccer fan, told Corriere della Sera “the fuss has been exaggerated.”

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