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Address by the Hon. Minister at the Rome Conference on Anti-Semitism

Farnesina, 29 January 2018

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Secretary General Greminger,

Director Gisladottir,

President Di Segni,

President Lauder,

President Kantor,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for being here and welcome to Rome! Let me address a heartfelt welcome to the Ministers, the Deputy Ministers and the Ambassadors of the OSCE’s Participating and Partner States; to the eminent personalities present and to all the speakers who will put forward ideas and stimuli on the basis of which to continue combating anti-Semitism with renewed determination.

I would also like to address a special thanks to all those who have contributed to organizing this event, especially the OSCE and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (CDEC – the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre), together with President Giorgio Sacerdoti and Director Gadi Luzzatto and Elena Loewenthal; Prof Salvatore Martinez (the President of the Italian Observatory on Religious Minorities in the World and on the Respect for Freedom of Religion); Rabbi Baker (Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair in Office on Combating Anti-Semitism); Attorney Ruben and  Ambassador Talò.

I would also like to convey a special greeting to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, President of Yad Vashem, who is honouring us with his presence. With him we have survived the greatest tragedy in Man’s history of hatred: the Shoah. So, a very special welcome goes to him.

I would also like to publicly express my warmest congratulations to Liliana Segre who, a few days ago, was appointed Senator for life by President Mattarella. Liliana Segre was deported to Auschwitz when she was 13 years old. She is one of the 25 survivors of the 776 Italian children under 14 who were imprisoned in the concentration camps.

Like for many others, her journey of horror began on Platform 21 of Milan’s Central Station. Platform 21 is today a Place of Remembrance which greets visitors with a poster in big letters: “INDIFFERENCE”. It stands to indicate the feeling that – more than any other – distressed Italian Jews. The indifference of many Italians to the tragedy that struck their fellow Italians.  

I was born in 1970. My generation was a lucky generation. For my generation, taking a train meant the freedom and the opportunity to tour Europe. But we should not forget that, also in modern Europe, the “platforms of indifference” can still lead us to an abyss.  

“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity.” This quote from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel must serve as a warning to us if we ever witness new acts of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in our cities.

Memory is essential. But, both for the present and for the future, it is equally important to be more incisive in our actions to fight anti-Semitism and any other form of discrimination. This is the sense of today’s event. Because the wheel of fanaticism can start turning again anywhere. We cannot only stand by and look on from afar. To stop it, we must take a stand and take courageous and immediate action. Instead, we must sound an alarm when anti-Semitism grows undetected; when we keep silent before anti-Semitic marches. Because silence favours the aggressor and never the victim. And then, only too easily, it opens a door to violence. After all that we have experienced and suffered in our history, we can no longer accept hateful words evoking racial supremacy!

It is this conviction and these values have inspired my entire political life. This is confirmed by the fact that also when I was Minister of Justice and Minister of the Interior, I strongly argued in favour of adopting provisions to criminalise anti-Semitic intolerance and denialism. I remember having signed hundreds of expulsion decrees for extremists who wanted to sow the seeds of this horrible intolerance in our society. These were ground-breaking acts for our system. And I would like to again engage in the project that President Di Segni recently mentioned to me: the possibility of establishing the figure of a Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism also in Italy.  

The upcoming months could offer us new opportunities. In addition to the OSCE Chair-in-Office, this year Italy will also hold the Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (6 March). These two presidencies combined will offer the opportunity to make new and tangible progress in combating anti-Semitism.

And our starting point will be this Conference, whose importance was also confirmed by the honour and the privilege granted to us by the Holy Father with this morning’s audience. However, allow me to unfold in greater detail the reasons that drove us to organise this Conference. 

I have already partially given a first answer in the foreword: there are too many signs of the danger of a new wave of racism and anti-Semitism in the OSCE area. We must combat a new outbreak of these phenomena because our very security is at stake; the same security that is a founding element of the OSCE. During the Italian Chair, also thanks to the support of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, we will promote events dedicated to the threats and discriminations that affect Jews, Christians, Muslims and the followers of every other religious creed.

Freedom of religion is an essential principle of human coexistence and of relations among States. Denying it endangers the basic rights of every individual. And if the aggression is perpetrated against entire communities, this triggers a perverse spiral that jeopardizes security and peace among peoples. And there’s more: freedom of religion is a natural right that precedes the realm of politics. The relationship between Man and his God is much older than the relationship between Man and his form of Government. The freedom to pray is the foundation of the right to democracy. Consequently therefore, it is a freedom that must be “recognised” and not “granted” to individuals by the State.

It is with this spirit that I established at the Foreign Ministry the Italian Observatory on Religious Minorities in the World and on the Respect of the Freedom of Religion, chaired by Prof Martinez, whom I have appointed my Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination. I asked him, and he is already working in close cooperation with the Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, Rabbi Baker, and with the Personal Representative on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, Prof Senay, to enhance the centrality of these themes under our OSCE Chairmanship.

A further answer to my question – why organise this conference here and now in Rome? – lies in the logo of the Conference. On the one hand, it symbolises a tragic story because, historically speaking, we can look at the Arch of Titus – with the Menorah at the centre – which testifies to the triumph of the Romans over the Jews, after the destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. On the other hand, this logo symbolises hope and responsibility because now it is as if the Menorah triumphantly stood out of the Arch, propagating its light. This logo is the symbol of a special bond between Rome and the Jewish Community. The Jewish Community has been present in Rome since the dawn of time and has contributed to the birth of our Nation. Many eminent members of this Community spearheaded the Unification of Italy.

Today, Italy is a mature and responsible Country that intends to come to terms with its history. A history enriched by centuries of culture, which nonetheless contains painful periods and serious guilts that cannot be concealed. In particular, this year marks the 80th anniversary of the adoption of the shameful racial laws which were passed and implemented in an atmosphere of widespread connivance: spanning across constitutional and administrative agencies, public officials and citizens who were unable to take the responsibility of saying “No”. This is what President Mattarella defined “an indelible mark in our history”.  

This year, I told the Italian Cultural Institutes around the world to include in their programmes films or literary works recalling those terrible years.  

From the anniversary of a tragic event let me move on to the anniversary of a joyful commemoration: the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will fall under our Chairmanship of the OSCE. These rights must not only be defended but also, and above all, promoted.

Defending and promoting fundamental rights and freedoms is a deep-rooted political responsibility, which I too strongly and clearly perceive. This is why we have wanted the leitmotif of this Conference to be precisely “Responsibility”. 

I was told that the root of the word “responsibility” in Hebrew (hachraiùt) derives from the word “other” (achèr). It means coming to terms and measuring oneself against others, which is the ultimate objective of those who hold political and civic responsibilities. It also very well combines with the application of the Jewish principle of “Tikkun Olam”: literally “repairing the world”, indicating the commitment to make the world in which we live fairer.

With today’s meeting we do not expect or presume to change the world but only to attract our Countries’ and our citizens’ attention on a few measures to fight the virus of anti-Semitism.  

The first Panel will focus on the role of legislators and public officials. In Italy, during this legislature, the Parliament has approved provisions severely punishing anti-Semitism and denialism as well as all forms of religious, ethnic or racial discrimination. But these hatreds cannot be eradicated only through the law. They require relentless efforts by our religious leaders and educators, especially targeted on youth, with a view to promoting an ever-more tolerant and open society. Then, these will be the themes of the following panels.

There will also be a session dedicated to digital platforms. Only too often, the fake news circulated on social media remind us of the fabrications disseminated against Jews in the 1930s. Unfortunately, fake news like this is camouflaged like a poisonous snake, ready to bite the most vulnerable and helpless. Great initiatives like today’s intend to be a sort of political antidote to anti-Semitic falsehoods. It is the inborn antidote that is harboured in the values of humanity and tolerance that we share and promote in the OSCE area.  

I conclude by recalling an ancient Latin proverb that says that “all roads lead to Rome”. Right, now I would like to turn the saying around: I would like for everybody to leave and span out throughout the OSCE area along new roads towards responsibility and tolerance, upholding fundamental rights and combating all expressions of anti-Semitism. I am convinced that every one of us will do his/her best to jointly create an “infrastructure” of awareness and culture capable of guaranteeing the liberties and rights of our citizens and the security of our States. This is the responsibility we must shoulder against indifference. This is the best way of dooming the time of hatred and discrimination to be for evermore “conjugated” in the past tense and never again in the present or in the future tense.

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