Italians March to Protest Anti-Semitism
AMID new concern over racism in Italy, hundreds of thousands of Italians commemorated the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the event that initiated Nazi persecution of Jews more than a half century ago.
From Turin in the north to Palermo on the island of Sicily, people in more than 30 Italian cities marched through the streets Nov. 9, wearing stickers with the words mai piu, never again.
"It was a success, this demonstration of human warmth," says Claudio Fano, vice president of the Jewish Community in Rome. "We're very happy."
The demonstrations follow a week of unease in Rome's Jewish community. It all began Nov. 1, when newspapers reported a poll showing that 1 in 10 Italians were anti-Semitic (10 percent of whom said they wanted Jews to leave Italy and go to Israel).
Stickers bearing yellow Stars of David and the words "Zionists out of Italy" appeared overnight on Jewish-owned stores around Rome. They were speedily removed by owners. Police suspected that two or three small ultra-right-wing groups were responsible. Some Jews begged the news media not to over-report the incidents; others expressed concern for their safety.
On Nov. 5, young Jews retaliated against the sticker campaign by beating about 15 young people and smashing automobile windows outside the headquarters of the anti-Semitic Political Movement, by then considered the guilty party. One of the young Jews said, "If no one will defend us, we'll do it alone. We've had it with the anti-Semites!"
Officials representing the Jewish community at large, however, condemned the violence.
"People are nervous," says Mr. Fano, an attorney. "But we can only rely on the democratic system, this is the firm point of view of the community. We ... have to rely on the police. Our police are the police of the Italian republic.... Of course they cannot do everything, but that's the only system."
The Nov. 9 antiracist protests were not all directed at anti-Semites, however. In Milan, about 20,000 students held a spur-of-the-moment rally in front of the headquarters of Sen. Umberto Bossi's Lombard League, to protest the League's policies. The Lombard League and its sister Northern League, the No. 1 political party in many Northern Italian cities, have supported the secession of the developed north from the rest of Italy, a position critics say is rascist.