Rome’s Jews back ‘Fas­cist’ city mayor

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RUTH ELLEN GRUBER

SINCE AS­SUM­ING of­fice last month, Rome’s first right-wing mayor since the Sec­ond World War has made stren­u­ous ef­forts to demon­strate sup­port for Is­rael and con­cern for Jewish sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Within days of his elec­tion, Gianni Ale­manno met lo­cal Jewish lead­ers and hon­oured Holo­caust vic­tims and the vic­tims of a 1982 Pales­tinian ter­ror at­tack at Rome’s main syn­a­gogue.

Mr Ale­manno also made clear that he would main­tain the city’s ex­ten­sive Shoah ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes and cur­rent plans for a Holo­caust mu­seum.

While young ex­trem­ists cel­e­brated his elec­tion with the Fas­cist salute, it emerged that many Ro­man Jews voted for Mr Ale­manno. The mayor, who got his po­lit­i­cal start in Italy’s post-war neo-Fas­cist move­ment and re­ceived back­ing from far-right po­lit­i­cal groups, is an ally of the newly-elected Prime Min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni, whose cen­tre-right Peo­ple of Free­dom coali­tion trounced the cen­tre-left in the gen­eral elec­tion at the end of April.

Call­ing the city’s Jews “the con­science of Rome”, Mr Ale­manno said the syn­a­gogue and the Jewish com­mu­nity rep­re­sented “an ad­mo­ni­tion to re­ject any form of racism, an­tisemitism, in­tol­er­ance or vi­o­lence”.

About 35,000 Jews live in Italy, some 15,000 in Rome. Mr Ber­lus­coni is pop­u­lar among many of them, in large part be­cause of his unswerving sup­port for Is­rael. Two out­spo­ken Jewish can­di­dates won elec­tion to par­lia­ment on Mr Ber­lus­coni’s ticket — jour­nal­ist Fi­amma Niren­stein and lawyer Alessan­dro Ruben who heads the Ital­ian branch of the Anti-Defama­tion League.

“Ale­manno has made many state­ments against an­tisemitism and in sup­port of Is­rael,” Mr Ruben told the JC from Is­rael, where he was mak­ing his first of­fi­cial trip as a mem­ber of par­lia­ment to take part in Is­rael’s 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. “He even flew the Is­raeli flag on the Rome mu­nic­i­pal build­ing to mark the an­niver­sary.”

Mr Ale­manno is a mem­ber of the Na­tional Al­liance, a post-Fas­cist party whose leader, Gian­franco Fini, dis­tanced the party from Fas­cist ide­ol­ogy and fos­tered re­la­tions with Jews and Is­rael. Mr Ale­manno partly rode Mr Ber­lus­coni’s coat-tails into of­fice, but his law-and-or­der plat­form — promis­ing to crack down on crime, fos­ter pub­lic se­cu­rity and curb il­le­gal im- mi­grants — also won favour with vot­ers. His sup­port from the com­mu­nity mir­rored a gen­eral shift to the right among Rome’s Jews, linked in part to dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the pro-Pales­tinian stance of some left­ist politi­cians. But it also rep­re­sented a change in the Jewish po­lit­i­cal mind-set.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, it was al­most un­think­able for a Jew to vote for any can­di­date with a neo-Fas­cist past, said Gior­gio Gomel, a leader of the left-lean­ing group, Martin Bu­ber Jews for Peace, which had called on vot­ers to re­ject Mr Ale­manno.

Now, how­ever, “there are Jews for whom anti-Fas­cism is no longer a di­vid­ing line that would in­flu­ence your vot­ing be­hav­iour”, said Mr Gomel. “They vote like or­di­nary Ital­ians. The fact that they are Jews is im­ma­te­rial, and that is quite un­set­tling in a way.”

What mat­ters to vot­ers, he said, “are the is­sues — pub­lic se­cu­rity, con­ser­va­tive val­ues, ma­te­rial is­sues, Is­rael.

“The philo-Is­raelism of the right has a very strong power of se­duc­tion. It’s ir­re­sistible. The ban­ner of anti-Fas­cism is no longer some­thing that is truly mean­ing­ful,” added Mr Gomel.


Gianni Ale­manno ( far right) with Rome com­mu­nity pres­i­dent Ric­cardo Paci­fici ( cen­tre) af­ter visit­ing a shul

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