Anti-Zionist Propaganda, Conspiracy Theories Fueling Rise of Anti-Semitism in Italy, New Report Shows
Anti-Jewish incidents in Italy climbed sharply in 2019, the latest report from the country’s main antisemitism monitor revealed on Friday.
Data gathered by the Milan-based “Osservatorio Antisemitismo” (Antisemitism Observatory) showed that there were 251 incidents of hatred targeting Jews last year, compared with 197 such incidents in 2018.
About 30,000 Jews live in Italy, concentrated in a handful of major cities.
The majority of the 2019 incidents — 173 — involved antisemitic posts online that were reported to the Observatory. In other categories, there were 31 incidents of verbal abuse, 23 instances of antisemitic graffiti and two violent assaults, one involving a woman in Rome who was slapped and spat upon by her assailant, and the other a man in the northern town of Prunetto who was punched and insulted with anti-Jewish epithets.
Stefano Gatti — the editor of the Observatory’s report — told the Italian Jewish news outlet Bet Magazine Mosaico that part of the reason for the increase was a greater willingness among victims to report attacks.
Equally, Gatti emphasized that the available data was likely an “underestimate” of the scale of the problem, “because they only include explicit complaints and not cases that are unknown or unreported.”
Asked to explain the broader context around the rise of antisemitism in Italy, Gatti pointed to the visibility of anti-Zionist propaganda demonizing the State of Israel and the related popularity of conspiracy theories centered upon Jews.
Two of the incidents recorded by the Observatory in 2019 — the cancellation of a concert in Sardinia by the Israeli musician Eyal Lerner and a public campaign for the boycott of Israeli goods — were characterized as antisemitism promoted by Italian supporters of the effort to subject the Jewish state to boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
“In the pro-Palestinian rhetoric, the themes, myths and symbols of anti-Judaism re-emerge,” Gatti commented. “Deicide, the blood libel, exclusivism, hatred for the rest of humanity: Anti-Zionist propaganda is hybridized with anti-Jewish myths.”
Gatti also identified the key conspiracies that “framed antisemitism in 2019,” he said.
Among the memes seen frequently on social media was the so-called “Kalergi plan” — an outlandish conspiracy theory pushed by neo-Nazis that first emerged in 2005, and which holds that there was a Jewish plot to destroy the white population in Europe through immigration.
The author of this alleged “plot” — which has been likened by some to the notorious antisemitic fabrication, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — was said to have been Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, an Austrian aristocrat and advocate of European integration who died in 1972.
In a separate interview with the newspaper La Stampa, Betti Guetta — the director of the Antisemitism Observatory — said that while the 2019 report contained “worrying signals,” there were also positive developments to report.
These included the establishment of the Segre Commission — a probe into racism and antisemitism led by veteran senator Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor who last year received death threats from far-right agitators.
Guetta also noted “the appointment of Milena Santerini as the national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism, and the ratification by Italy of the definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA).”
“These are very important signs that demonstrate the commitment of our country to fight these forms of hatred,” she said.