Paris, 25 September 2022
Sent before beginning of Rosh Hashanah in Paris
Polling stations close at 11 p.m., exit polls begin at midnight
Italy’s Parliamentary election results will arrive tonight, during the Jewish New Year 5783. The cleaver of a populist front is set to chop the country in two. During the run up to elections, a vociferous, unsatisfied, xenophobic side has politically drowned the moderates, too prudent and intellectualised. The right-wing coalition fields Giorgia Meloni’s party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), in coalition with another populist, Eurosceptic party, the Lega of Matteo Salvini, and with the liberal-conservative Forza Italia, led by the elderly yet still popular Silvio Berlusconi. According to most polls, there is little doubt they will win.
The Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Dr Shimon Samuels – based in Europe for 36 years running – comments on possible consequences, in particular for Italian Jews and for the Diaspora at large.
Silvio Berlusconi, some 27 years ago, as Prime Minister, met in Rome with Wiesenthal officials, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Shimon Samuels, to respond to the Centre’s request for Nazi war criminal, Erich Priebke – responsible for the Ardeatine Caves massacre (335 killed, of which 75 Jews) – be extradited from Argentina to stand trial in Italy. He responded, “I want this man in Italy”. As President of Edizioni Mondadori, he published Simon Wiesenthal’s last book “Justice, Not Vengeance” in Italian, which he then distributed to each member of the Italian Parliament... Berlusconi, once an admirer of Putin, in April condemned the invasion of Ukraine, ‘now’ saddened by Putin’s behaviour.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega, was Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister during 2018-2019 particularly controversial on migration policies... in a generalized European context that could recall the Evian Conference of 1938, that saw all participating States – except the Dominican Republic – rebuffing Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. On another note, Salvini said he is in favour of moving Italy’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Yet, this was rejected by Giorgia Meloni, as an “essentially American policy”.
“As per Giorgia Meloni, she pulls together the constellation of extreme right parties and movements,” continued Samuels, “her catchy populist rhetoric has gained momentum, creating a solid electoral base poised at an average 25% consensus rate, at the top of the opinion polls. Meloni still has to prove her worth in Government.”
In particular, Meloni’s constituency is also former neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi extremists, “who have no qualms in peddling antisemitism and hate.”
Samuels stated, “Let aside the possible scenarios – that are too many to identify at this stage – the Simon Wiesenthal Centre will be as watchful as ever to denounce any unacceptable speech or action by this coalition, whatever will be its standing. Not only the future of Italy is at stake, but its policies will influence other European countries and EU institutions... straining its unity in the face of challenging times.”
Mark Twain’s quote has returned: “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes!” Italy and Europe cannot afford another impasse based on hate, discrimination and violence. Furthermore, to paraphrase Simon Wiesenthal, “what once began with the Jews – the migrants today – will not end with them!” Having been victimized for centuries, Jews tend to empathize with the most fragile parts of society and are wary of forceful autocratic rulers who reject minority rights.
“Whoever wins these elections, their banner must carry the manifesto, ‘Fascism Never Again!’” concluded Samuels.
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