Whither goes our loyalty: To Italy as Italians, or Israel as Jews?
PALESTINE / ISRAEL, 25 October 2010
by Bianca Ambrosio - Haareetz
An Italian living in Israel considers the dilemma facing Jews in the Diaspora as her native country prepares to go to the polls.
Jews living in the Diaspora face a controversial dilemma when it comes to national sentiment: Is it better to prioritize the state in which we live or to focus on belonging to the State of Israel?
Such a quandary becomes particularly relevant when elections in our countries of residence occur and Jews – as all other citizens – are asked to elect our national leaders. We must consider whether it is more important to choose the government that will best serve the country in which we live, or to vote principally in consideration of how the future government will treat the State of Israel.
As bitter anti-Zionism expands on a ubiquitous level, Diaspora Jews often tend to choose leaders who can guarantee the state’s proximity to Israel, rather than electing the government best suited for the country.
Indeed, Diaspora Jews often forgo their political ideology and beliefs in order to ensure that the government they are electing will undertake policies that support the Jewish state.
Italian Jews are a paradigmatic example of the phenomenon. With the ongoing, increasing stance of the Left as the strenuous defender of the Palestinian cause, Jews are quickly growing as a sector in support of right-wing parties that declares themselves as “Friends of Israel”.
The great majority of the Jewish electorate supports the government, particularly as Italy is one of the most pro-Israel states in Europe. But many politicians who belong to the leading parties’ members have pasts rooted in fascist movements and factions, and their careers have been mired in controversy. The current mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, is notorious for his fascist background; – but his victory in the 2008 elections was helped enormously by the Jewish community’s crucial contribution.
Most Italian Jews have seemingly chosen to put aside history and to look toward the future – more particularly, at the future of the Jewish national home, Israel.
They choose to elect those leaders who show consistent commitment and interest toward Israel – those would come to Israel and wear yarmulkes at Yad Vashem, those who would be honored to meet with Israeli politicians.
But the past cannot just be forgotten and put aside. Indeed, the political pasts of many of these leaders means we must keep in mind that they might not ensure the prevention of anti-Semitism. Moreover, their support to Israel could well be precarious: their support does not necessarily stem from ideology, but rather from the clash with Islamic civilization and the consequent system of alliances that is developing in the Middle East.
Unpleasant recent episodes – involving a senator of the ruling party, Giuseppe Ciarrapico and even Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – elucidate how casual anti-Semitism is still rooted in the political class. Moreover, politicians might manifest their support toward the Jewish state but still harbor latent forms of anti-Semitism that can suddenly explode. Berlusconi may reiterate his amity with Israel, but it does not stop him from making Jewish jokes.
Daniele Nahum the vice-president of the Jewish community of Milan, says he is confident in the cursus honorum undertaken by some politicians. President of Chamber Gianfranco Fini, who in the past belonged to parties with fascist tendencies, now demonstrates a sincere and reliable fellowship towards the Jewish community as well as toward Israel.
However, there are still some politicians attached to their past, who still possess xenophobic ideologies. Senator Ciarrapico could be counted among them – after his recent racist statements, Nahum asked for his resignation.
Nahum believes that these tendencies aside, it is most important to ensure that the policy of the Italian government remain balanced regarding the situation in the Middle East and consistently supportive of Israel’s right to exist, And in this sense, the Italian government can doubtless be trusted.
However, can the government be trusted to prevent the spread of anti-Semitism and other racial discriminations? In recent years Italy has witnessed many racial circumstances toward minorities who question the commitment of the government in fighting such situations.
Is it not the primary interest – in fact, duty – of the Jewish community to ascertain dialogue and respect? Should not the Jews try to shape a society that supports Israel but that also does not forget about its minorities and struggle to protect them?
As a long persecuted minority, we are very concerned with the dangerous consequences that can result from prejudices and fear. We know how quickly and easily seemingly isolated events can turn into systematic persecution.
It is true that Italy, as the great majority of Europe, is embroiled in cultural clashes and that often it is immigrant communities which trigger incidences of crime.
However, it is the undisputed role of the government to promote tolerance – together with security – and to encourage dialogue. If the government avoids this task, then it is the duty of citizens to take it upon themselves to bring back those basic human values that seem to be lost in the dust.
Taking a political stand, especially in an era where ideologies seem to be dying out, is never easy. Italian Jews will not necessarily have an easy time this election round, and must still contend with violence and growing xenophobia along with the delegitimization campaign facing their other home – Israel.
It is now the hard task of Italian Jews to find the golden path that might reaffirm both their loyalties: to Italy as Italians, to Israel as Jews.
Bianca Ambrosio is an intern at Haaretz.com
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