A jarring 44% of Italians are prejudiced or hostile towards Jews, according to a new research study released by the Italian Parliament on October 17.
The report, titled "Final Document: Investigation on Anti-Semitism," was commissioned by the Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament. The 50-page document is the culmination of more than two years of research and parliamentary hearings.
The inquiry found that nearly half of all Italians say they feel no sympathy whatsoever toward the Jews. There has also been an exponential proliferation of anti-Semitic Internet websites and social networks in Italy. Moreover, the level of hatred against the State of Israel in many cases passes the limits of legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and aims at the destruction of the Jews.
"We have been attempting to understand the new aspects of this phenomenon, which is as aggressive and genocidal as it always was, but it is presently hiding itself by assuming new forms," according to Fiamma Nirenstein, the Italian MP who chaired the inquiry.
The report says that Italians harbor varying degrees of hostility towards Jews, ranging from traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes to full-blown anti-Semitism. The report also says that Italians holding anti-Semitic views can be broken down into four general categories.
The first group, which comprises about 10% of the Italian population, holds what the report classifies as "traditional" anti-Jewish views. These include stereotypes such as "Jews are not fully Italian;" "You can never really trust them," and "When it comes down to it, they have always lived at the expense of others."
The report says the second group (11% of the population) holds what it classifies as "modern" anti-Semitic views. These include stereotypes such as "the Jews are rich and powerful," "Jews control and direct politics, the media and the banks," and "Jews are more faithful to Israel than to the country of their birth."
A third group (12% of Italians) holds "contingent" anti-Semitic views such as "Jews use the Holocaust to justify Israeli policy;" "Jews talk too much about their own tragedies and disregard the tragedies of other people" and "The Jews behave like Nazis with the Palestinians."
The report cites a fourth group, which it classifies as the "pure anti-Semites" (12% of Italians). Those classified within this group hold all of the elements of the other three forms of Italian anti-Semitism.
The inquiry says the Internet is partly responsible for fuelling an increase in Italian anti-Semitism. The document notes an "alarming increase" in anti-Semitic websites and social networks. In 2008, for example, there were 836 websites spreading anti-Semitic views in Italy. In 2009, this figure jumped to 1,172, an increase of 40%. Many of the owners of these websites manage to evade Italian authorities by registering their domain names in other countries.
In July 2011, for instance, an Italian website called for the "blacklisting" of more than 160 Jewish professors who teach at Italian universities. The website accused the Jewish professors of "manipulating the minds of students" and "seeking to control Italian universities."
Other websites include blacklists that include names of Jewish magistrates who serve in Italian courts, as well as lists of businesses, restaurants, butcher shops and pastry shops owned by Italian Jews.
Anti-Semitism in Italy is also being fomented by Muslim immigrants who have established links with left-wing and right-wing extremists to carry out attacks on local Jewish communities, synagogues, schools and cemeteries, according to the report.
In June 2011, for example, pro-Palestinian and left-wing activists threatened to "ignite" the city of Milan to protest an exhibit celebrating Israeli culture. The "Unexpected Israel" exhibition, which showcased Israeli culture, technology, agriculture, economics and art to present "the unfamiliar Israel" went ahead as planned on Milan's Piazza Duomo central square. But city police refused to handle security for the event due to the threats of violence. Petitions issued by pro-Palestinian activists groups stated "No to the Israeli occupation of Milano."
Also in June, the city of Turin hosted a "cultural festival" at which the image of Israeli President Shimon Peres was used as a shoe-throwing target. For one euro, Italian students had the chance to hit the face of Israel's president, who was fitted with a Nazi-style Jewish nose.
In other cases, Israeli students at the University of Genoa have been harassed and threatened with death by Arab students. Muslim students shouted "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is great) and "Itbach el Yahud" (slaughter the Jews). Israeli students at the University of Turin have been hiding their Jewish identity for fear of becoming a target.
The report also discusses the growing phenomenon of anti-Semitism disguised as criticism of the State of Israel throughout Italy, where boycotts of Israel are becoming commonplace.
For instance, two Italian supermarkets recently announced they would stop selling Israeli products as they could not differentiate whether they came from Israel or the "occupied territories."
The grocery chain Coop Italia issued a statement saying that they had a problem with "traceability, namely that the consumer is unable to verify whether or not the product in question comes from the occupied territories." Anti-Israel activists said the boycott was "an important success for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid."
A group of Italian university professors has called for an academic boycott of Israel to protest "against university and cultural discrimination of the Palestinians."
The report documents other cases of anti-Semitism in Italy; the Italian Observatory on Anti-Semitism also compiles copious data on the phenomenon.
The inquiry's findings are in line with other research on Italian anti-Semitism.
A study recently published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a think-tank affiliated with Germany's Social Democratic Party, reveals high levels of anti-Semitism in Italy and a strong presence of anti-Semitism that is linked with Israel and is hidden behind criticism of Israel.
The April 2011 report, titled "Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination: A European Report," questioned roughly 1,000 people in eight European countries. The study found that 37.6% of Italians believe "Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians." More than 40% of Italians believe "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims of the Nazi era." More than 25% of Italians agree with the statement: "Considering Israel's policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews."
In June 2010, the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published an annual report stating that anti-Semitism has grown steadily in Italy over the past decade.
In May 2008, a national survey published by the Italian leftwing newspaper L'Unità found widespread negative attitudes towards Jews, with 23% of the respondents stating that Jews cannot be considered "completely Italians;" 39% stating that Jews have a "special relationship with money," and 11% stating that "Jews lie about the Holocaust."
In May 2005, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League published a survey called "Attitudes Toward Jews in Twelve European Countries." It found that 66% of Italians believe "Jews are more loyal to Israel than this country." Nearly 50% of Italians said "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust." More than 50% of Italians say their opinion of Jews is worse because of policies taken by the State of Israel.
A previous poll, "Iraq and Peace in the World," commissioned by the European Union in November 2003, found that 48% of Italians consider Israel to be the greatest threat to world peace.
The findings are "very disturbing," says Fiamma Nirenstein, the Italian MP who chaired the inquiry. She says it was a "shock for everybody to see how much anti-Semitism exists in Italy and Europe."
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.