Address by the Honourable Minister
(fa fede solo il testo effettivamente pronunciato)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to begin by sincerely thanking the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism and the British government for organizing this event. The London Conference is a unique opportunity to share our experiences and to add political impetus to the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism. The Italian government is very sensitive to this issue and my presence here today is witness of our engagement.
Understanding anti-Semitism in the 21st century is a far from easy task. Despite decades of efforts to combat it, the persistence – and sometimes the increase – of anti-Semitism in the world is clear proof that our threshold of vigilance needs raising. Traditional forms of anti-Semitism coexist alongside contemporary ones. We need to go back to its origins, to grasp its history and to recognize its changing shape. We need to identify and eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism before they are able to blossom. We must avoid any risk of public indifference. We must stimulate moral indignation and civil outcry.
1. Traditional and new forms of anti-Semitism - Traditional forms of anti-Semitism – the overt demonization or denigration of Jews – persist across the globe. Classic anti-Semitic screeds are still in circulation. In some countries, Jews continue to be accused of having dual loyalties or undue influence on government policy and the media. Forms of traditional anti-Semitism continues to influence extremist groups in Western Europe, North America, Australia and other democratic societies. Nazi racist ideas and the segregation of different cultures, religions and races still inspire such groups.
Anti-Semitism has proven to be a highly adaptive phenomenon. Contemporary anti-Semitism manifests itself in both overt and subtle ways, both in places where size¬able Jewish communities are located and where few Jews live. Anti-Semitic crimes range from acts of violence, including terrorist attacks, to the desecration and destruction of synagogues and cemeteries. Anti-Semitic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and other propaganda circulate widely and rapidly by means of satellite television, radio and the internet.
The rise in anti-Semitism has been documented by governments, multilateral organizations and world leaders. The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, commissioned by Mr. John Mann in 2005, discovered that anti-Jewish sentiment had entered the mainstream and was turning up in the everyday conversations of people who do not consider themselves racist. As stated in the Berlin Declaration – a landmark in international efforts to combat this scourge – contemporary anti-Semitism pose a threat to democracy and the values of civilization and, consequently, to overall security.
While traditional anti-Semitism remains prevalent among extremist fringe groups and populations where xenophobic attitudes persist, the “new anti-Semitism” commonly manifests itself in the guise of opposition to Zionism and to the existence of the State of Israel. New forms of anti-Semitism – anti-Zionist and anti-Israel in nature – are more subtle and thus frequently escape condemnation. Criticism of the Israeli government, theoretically legitimate in and of itself, can also provide rhetorical camouflage for what is, in reality, the dissemination of anti-Semitic hatred.
2. Media and anti-Semitism - Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has made its way also in the language of the mass-media. This is a critical issue that has been addressed also in the “All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism” and that I also wish to mention.
The free flow of information and ideas through the media has a great potential to promote freedom, tol¬erance and human dignity. The internet, for instance, is a powerful tool for networking among individuals, whatever their views or interests. It also provides a handy tool for communicating racist opinions to a mass audience. Islamist terrorist groups, for example, have repeatedly voiced their hatred for Jews, defining them as “legitimate targets” of violence.
Moreover, the media often fail to offer balanced reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As highlighted by the Inquiry, there is a statistical relationship between events in the Middle East and the occurrence of anti-Semitic incidents.
For these reasons, I believe that in our globalised world the media have a moral responsibility to present a fair and balanced picture of world events and not to use irresponsible language that has the potential to trigger anti-Semitic tendencies. In this regard, my compliments to the members of the British press who saw fit to sign a Code of Practice with clauses on discrimination and accuracy.
3. Europe, Israel and anti-Semitism - Episodes of anti-Semitism continue to appear around the world. And Europe is no exception – quite the contrary. The latest annual Report by the Agency for Fundamental Rights notes that there was a substantial increase from 2001 to 2006 in anti-Semitic crimes in EU Member States that gather data on this phenomenon.
That the virus of anti-Semitism continues today to infect the fabric of our continent is a serious situation on which we have, perhaps, not reflected enough. I have often wondered – and I wish once again to raise the question here – whether Europe’s error in the past was not a two-fold one. First of all, the error of trying to “sweep it under the rug”, thereby locating anti-Semitism among the evils of the past, treating it as a problem of bygone days, of the Europe of yesteryear and, consequently, failing to properly estimate its new potential. In the second place, in the service of a too broadly interpreted ethics of tolerance, the error of applying an abstract model of multicultural integration at the expense of the protection of individual rights, thus supporting a form of cultural relativism that has left us mute when our voices instead should have rung out loud and clear.
Europe has stammered at times in the past in its support of Israel’s right to self-defence. The Jewish government’s policy has often been accused of having caused the Middle East conflict, but rarely has the inverse been invoked: that Israel’s is a struggle to defend its very existence. The European Union has been uncertain for far too long about developing a more mature, strategic relationship with Israel and creating forms of closer cooperation, but its decision to finally do so in 2008 was thanks especially to the EU friends of Israel, in particular to the Italy’s efforts.
Certainly the political and cultural climate on our continent also seems to be changing. It must be acknowledged that Europe has made progress. The contribution it is making—to Israel’s security as well—in Lebanon, for example, with UNIFIL, is an important step, as is the aforementioned upgrade in EU/Israeli relations finally accomplished in 2008, which should lead, inter alia, to high level political contact.
4. Italy, Israel and anti-Semitism - The road is still long, however, and the Italian government has boosted international efforts both bilaterally and multilaterally in the awareness that more needs to be done both for Israel and against anti-Semitism. In this regard I would like to touch briefly on two important matters: the recent crisis in Gaza, and the negotiations ahead of the Durban Review Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
The Israeli intervention in Gaza was accompanied by an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism, seen in the declarations by Hamas and some countries of the region who continued to preach the destruction of Israel. It was also unfortunately borne out in the words heard in certain manifestations of protest against Israel that took place in various European countries, including Italy, where we have seen people burning Israel flags in the streets of some cities, with the encouragement of some extremist political parties.
In the face of all this the Italian government has been very clear. In addition to firmly condemning every manifestation of anti-Semitism, it has repeatedly stressed Israel’s right to security and to defending itself against the rockets being launched onto its soil. At the same time the government has ruled out every form of dialogue with Hamas, insisting on its character of a terrorist organisation, as recognised by the European Union itself, and therefore on the impossibility of its being a legitimate political interlocutor representing a second Palestinian entity.
We cannot talk to Hamas. We cannot recognize Hamas as an interlocutor. Hamas does not recognize Israel. We cannot legitimize a movement that constantly provokes our main ally in the region with rockets and denies its existence and incites to destroy Israel and killing Jews. Hamas’ stance against Israel is a stance against the West and its values. If we talk to Hamas, we would reward terror and violence: we would encourage other movements and groups in the region and in the world to use violence for political purposes.
The Italian government also went into action early on in the Gaza crisis promoting the immediate cessation of hostilities on all sides and seeking to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians. We sent emergency aid to the local population and, as President of the G8, launched a coordination of humanitarian interventions.
On the diplomatic side Italy has encouraged and sustained the plan proposed by President Mubarak. We have underlined three priority considerations in stabilising the Gaza Strip. First, Palestinian reconciliation, strengthening the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and reuniting the Palestinian territories under a single Authority; second, humanitarian assistance and the reconstruction of Gaza, not least through the conference that Egypt has convened for early March and to which Italy will contribute to as co-sponsor; thirdly, the reopening of the Crossings, starting with the Rafah Crossing, for which the European Union has already asserted its readiness to redeploy the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM).
At the moment, these appear to be the preconditions—with the impetus of a renewed and determined commitment by the American administration—for the rapid resumption of the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – two states co-existing in security and peace. In this respect, also the kind of government that will be formed in Israel, following the uncertain electoral results, has to be considered an important element.
Going back to the current challenge of anti-Semitism, I would like to mention the complex negotiations going on in Geneva ahead of the Durban Review Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, set for this April. We are hoping – and will make every effort possible to see to it – that the conference takes place in a constructive atmosphere and does not become an opportunity to single Israel out or to incite anti-Semitism, hatred or violence against the members of one group or to call into question the existence of any individual state. The Italian government will act with determination in this setting also – rejecting any eventual negation of the Holocaust or any attempt to weaken its significance – to prevent the repetition of the 2001 anti-Israel initiatives.
5. Education, historical research and memory - The daily efforts by the international community to combat anti-Semitism will fall short of their mark if not underpinned by a strong commitment to education and understanding. Indeed it is necessary to change behaviour, which is sometimes deeply rooted in the collective psychology of societies, and to combat radical ideologies by acting directly upon the sources that feed this sort of propaganda, i.e. ignorance and prejudice. This is why Italy strongly supports the work of international organizations such as the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF).
As we all know, education is strongly linked with historical research. We cannot teach the truth if we are not fully aware of it. As far as the Holocaust is concerned, there is still a vast and tragic lack of knowledge in some areas. In this regard, allow me to point out that Italy is an active member of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service, the body that since 1955 has overseen the Nazi archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany.
Education on Holocaust-related issues and respect for all ethnic and religious groups, awareness-raising campaigns and remembrance remain the key weapons against anti-Semitism, and the only way to ensure that the horrendous crimes committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated.
In this respect, the Day of Remembrance we celebrated this past 27 January was a highly significant event, serving not only as a warning never to forget but as a command to ponder, study, analyse and be vigilant. Memory is the root of consciousness. Memory unites generations and keeps deeds and judgements alive, allowing them to overcome moral inertia, indifference, the propensity for conformism and prejudice. Memory is also indispensable to stamp out every form of extremism and to build a just society based, first and foremost, on respect for human dignity.
In conclusion, I wish to sincerely thank the organisers of this Conference, which contributes to keep alive and alert our awareness of anti-Semitism. Indeed, all rhetoric aside, this kind of event reminds us that each of our governments, and each of us individually, has a moral duty, especially to young people. A duty to explain; to understand; to spread awareness; to be capable of encountering other cultures and of working together to combat prejudice. We have a responsibility to nurture day by day this educational process. And it is our duty and responsibility to keep the memory of a shameful history from generation to generation in order to reverse the evils of apathy and indifference.