As a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment sweeps through Europe, with Jews leaving in record numbers, Italy is one country that is bucking the trend and standing out as a beacon of support for Israel and the Jewish people in Europe.
In the middle of January, following a machete attack on a Jewish man in Marseille, French Jews began debating whether they should continue to wear a kippah (Jewish skullcap) in public. A Twitter campaign was launched with the hashtag #TousAvecUneKippa (Everyone with a kippah), encouraging the French public to wear a skullcap in solidarity with the Jewish people.
An Italian newspaper took this idea one step further last week. On Holocaust Memorial Day, the newspaper, Il Foglio, distributed its daily newspaper and inside each one they had placed a white kippah.
An article that accompanied the free gift stated, “the West should not obscure its roots and its religious symbols,” and that in response to the surge in anti-Semitism across Europe, “this year we must do more.”
This move has been described as both a touching and brave gesture to stand up against anti-Semitism.
Giulio Meotti, who writes for the paper said, “We intended it as a gesture of closeness and solidarity with the Jewish people, now that anti-Semitism is getting stronger in Europe and that many Jews are abandoning our cities.”
“From Marseilles to Milan, many Jews in Europe today have chosen to stop wearing the kippah in public,” he explained. “They do it for personal safety or because some leaders of Jewish communities asked them to do so. They hide all symbols of their Jewish identity.”
“Hatred of Israel has returned to dominate the media and politics,” he stated sadly. “Anti-Semitism does not shock anymore. But we must pay attention. Because they start by hitting the Jews but they do not stop there: we are all in danger.”
“So what could we do? Solidarity is the only weapon we have. That little kippah is the symbol of our greatest and most precious freedoms. And of Israel, the outpost that Europe should defend and love,” said Meotti.
This is not the only move by Italians to combat anti-Semitism or to stand up for Israel the Jewish people. Italy was the first country in the world to mark Holocaust Memorial Day as 27 January, the date in which Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945. Italy therefore led the way for other countries to follow.
This year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Italian ambassador to Israel Francesco Maria Talo emphasised Italy’s special responsibility to remember the Holocaust: “It is especially important to remember what was done to participate in the persecution…. We have more responsibility and we need to do more,” Talo said.
Talo was referring to the role that Italy played during World War II as part of the Axis powers. There is a feeling that they owe a debt to the Jewish people.
Italy’s ambassador to the UN, Sebastiano Cardi, has also been outspoken on the subject of anti-Semitism. Speaking at the UN General Assembly last year he said, “Italy supports multilateral initiatives against anti-Semitism….We must clearly and unanimously condemn every act of anti-Semitism and its ideological roots.”
Italy’s leaders have spoken strongly and passionately for the Jewish people and none more so than Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who is also a staunch ally of the Jewish State. Renzi was invited to speak at Knesset, Israel’s parliament, last year.
In a passionate speech he said, “You (Israel) do not only have the right to exist, you must exist and live for the future of your children and mine. You are a fulcrum of the world and we will stand with you.”
Renzi affirmed that Israel and Italy stood united in a global war against terrorism, barbarism and violent extremism. He also spoke openly against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which he labeled as ‘stupid’ and said anyone who supports such a move is ‘betraying their own future’.
These are strong words from Italy’s youngest ever Prime Minister, words which have been backed up by his administration’s actions.
Despite the strong support shown by Italy’s leaders, there is still a minority of Italians who hold anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views. Just this week a group of 168 Italian academics announced their support for the BDS movement, a move that was welcomed by Hamas.
Despite this, Italy stands as one of the lone beacons of Israel support in Europe. While anti-Semitism is on the rise across the continent and anti-Israel movements gain momentum, we need more countries like Italy to take active stands against these forms of hate.
Let’s continue to pray that more countries will take a stand for Israel and the Jewish people. And may God bless Italy, her leaders and her people for doing just that.
/Christians United for Israel UK