Giulio Centemero recently gave one of the best speeches on anti-Semitism that has ever been delivered in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament.
Centemero, who belongs to the governing party Lega—ranked among one of those in Europe of alleged racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism—touched upon all the points that define contemporary anti-Semitism. And he did so without simply rambling off the usual cautionary platitudes that we are used to hearing from the presumed defenders of the Jews, who at first seem to be among the champions of human rights, and then turn around in favor of Israel’s demonization and don’t condemn terrorism when it’s directed against Jews.
He explained extremely well the gratitude that the world, Europe and Italy owe the Jews for their incredible contributions to the history of the contemporary world, to its best impulses and also to Italy’s history, in particular. Jesus was an observant Jew, he said literally, and therefore, it is from his culture that we have obtained the principle of equality, the value for human life and the belief that prohibits killing. From these principles derive the fundamental cultural role that Jews have played in contemporary society, which has made them extraordinary fighters for their homelands, including Italy, as well great writers like Primo Levi and great scientists like Rita Levi-Montalcini.
Centemero then used an expression that holds the entire media responsible for creating today’s anti-Semitism: “sick words” that have painted Jews as poisoners of wells, plotters and dangerous, up to despicable claim they orchestrated the attack on the Twin Towers.
And so the lesson should have been learnt, stated Centemero, given all the persecutions that have decimated the Jews in Europe and condemned them to death by enslaving them in concentration camps. And now, here again, anti-Semitism rears its ugly face. Yet it should be clearly seen that after attacks on Jews arrive those who impede upon the life and liberty of everyone: Hitler, Stalin and political Islam. They have all struck using anti-Semitism first. Major attacks against Jews have spread fear and death throughout Europe, soaking it in blood; and after synagogues and Jewish schools have come attacks at shopping malls, and in public squares, theaters and streets.
The sick hatred against Jews in the West is disguised by anti-Zionist rhetoric. But hatred against Israel is nothing other than anti-Semitism, which, having become inadmissible in the West, presents itself as a criticism of Israel and also makes use of the unacceptable fear of denouncing Muslim anti-Semitic hatred. The Lega deputy mentioned many of the attempts by the Arab world to completely destroy Israel through wars and the heinous wave of terrorism that continually persecutes Israel’s citizens.
From the past, we have learned that values are not negotiable. Therefore, it is unacceptable that we provide—out of fear or conformism—a free pass to Islamic culture, for example, by covering our statues when the Iranian president visits or deny the extermination of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks. Centemero concluded by praising the history of diversity and integration, together with Jewish communities as an example in a world that faces simultaneously the problem of globalization and identity.
Surprised? I ask all those, especially Jews, who are quick to classify the growth of the right in Europe as a dangerous phenomenon for Jews, who have a problem with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán without knowing anything but their names and the succession of insults that are ritually wagged against them, let alone Donald Trump.
However, if we venture to take a closer look closer, we will find that their victories have generally eroded the true movements of the right, as well as anti-Semites who wear a swastika or Fascist armband. Orbán has nothing to do with Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, as Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini has nothing to do with CasaPound, Italy’s neo-Fascist Party, and Kurtz is nothing like the notorious Austrian politician Jörg Haider. These leaders have taken great pride in declaring war on anti-Semitism, and this is perhaps more important because it’s much more costly politically to affirm their unconditional sympathy for the State of Israel. This compared to a European Union that literally persecutes Israel with measures very similar to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and with constant declarations of condemnation. Israel is shunned, failing to raise even an eyebrow (the blond eyebrow of E.U. foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini) in relation to Palestinian terrorism.
It’s Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party who is a sworn enemy of the Jews and Israel. We haven’t heard any accusations from the new “nationalist” groups, which, as have been suggested, should indicate that they’re leading the world back to the times of nationalism in the 1920s or 1930s. No, the Jews are not accused of selfish interests, conspiracy and betrayal or of even having caused the crisis of the euro. Israel is not accused of violating human rights, but rather recognized for its steadfast commitment to upholding democracy while being constantly under attack.
Here, Centemero recalled by purposefully repeating the extent to which the Jews have contributed to Italy’s history and its victories. We’ll see, of course, but the feeling is that if such an attitude can succeed in acquiring political space in Europe, then it will eventually change the automatic vile condemnation of Israel at every step. Moreover, the hope is that Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe, together with the terrorism that derives from it, will at least come to be denounced and fought.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.