MILAN, Italy – An online petition posted recently by hundreds of Italians during Israel's operation in Gaza calls for creation of “an international tribunal," in which the State of Israel and its people will be put on trial for the “slow genocide of the entire [Palestinian] people.”
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Signed by 525 Italians, most of them academics, the petition does not target just Israel Defense Forces' commanders or the government of Benjamin Netanyahu: The signatories want “the whole State of Israel” and its “racist society” to appear in an international court, in a Nuremberg-like trial, for war crimes. And not just due to Operation Protective Edge, but because of events in "the past, the present and the foreseeable future.”
This petition is but one example of the increasingly sharp criticism in Italy of Operation Protective Edge, criticism which some are saying is tainted by anti-Semitism. Indeed, the petitioners literally called for a “Nuremberg for Israel” – a reference to the military tribunals created by the Allied forces after World War II, in which 24 German officials were tried for war crimes.
The document, whose intent is ostensibly symbolic, has been widely publicized online. It originally appeared on a small academic website, Historia Magistra, and later ended up in the online edition of Il Manifesto, a respected left-leaning newspaper.
The petition is titled “Noi Accusiamo” (We Accuse) after Émile Zola’s famous "J’Accuse," an open letter published on the front page of a newspaper in France, denouncing the widespread anti-Semitism there in the 1890s, sparked by the Dreyfus Affair (in which a Jewish officer in the French army was unjustly convicted of treason).
Originally drafted by Angelo d’Orsi, a professor of history at the University of Turin and a frequent contributor to a number of left-wing publications, the document has sparked strong reactions, both because of the analogy it draws between the State of Israel and the Nazi regime, and its assumption that an entire country can be put on trial (unlike what actually happened in Nuremberg, when only a handful of Nazi officials were tried).
Tommaso Di Francesco, co-editor in chief of Il Manifesto, told Haaretz that his paper has “nothing to do” with the document, which was posted by a private blogger. He also said he has refused to let it appear in the paper's print edition because he finds the Nazi comparison “repulsive and historically incorrect.”
Nevertheless, Di Francesco noted that Il Manifesto will soon publish “a more serious” document supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call for the Netanyahu government to stand trial in an international court for alleged war crimes during Protective Edge. The piece will be drafted by “several experts of international law and human rights,” such as professors emeritus John Dugard and Richard Falk (both former special rapporteurs of the UN Commission on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory).
For his part, Angelo d’Orsi, the author of the “Nuremberg for Israel” document, told Haaretz that he is perfectly aware that his “Nazi analogy is a strained comparison.” D’Orsi, who wrote a book in 1995 on anti-Semitism , said he purposely used the term Nuremberg “to shock the Italian Jewish community,” which he describes as “a mouthpiece for the Israeli government.”
He added that he is angered by the vocal support for Operation Protective Edge voiced by the majority of local Jewish leaders. “I remember a time," D'Orsi said, "when the Italian Jewish community used to be a place of free discussion. Now it’s becoming some sort of Israeli embassy.”
To some, statements such as D’Orsi’s seem to be symptomatic of the general, mounting hostility toward Israel within Italy these days.
“We have reached a point of collective psychosis that’s beyond what [George] Orwell could imagine. The very idea of intellectuals calling for a tribunal to judge not individuals but an entire state gives me the chills,” commented Guri Schwarz, an Italian-born Jewish historian who was visiting assistant professor in Mediterranean Jewish studies this year at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Others describe the climate surrounding the current debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “terribly tense” and “unprecedentedly tainted by anti-Semitic sentiments.”
“I’ve followed left-wing movements for at least three decades," said Ettore Colombo, a freelance journalist in Rome. "I’m very used to people vocally opposing Israel, but it’s the first time I sense that anti-Semitism is often behind it."
Colombo added: "When I visit the ghetto [the historical home of Rome’s Jewish community] I can sense the community feels it's under siege.”
In the past few weeks, signs bearing anti-Semitic slogans have surfaced across Italy, particularly in Rome, which has the country largest Jewish community. In the capital more than 70 posters and inscriptions have appeared, blaring phrases like: “Anna Frank was a liar”; “Jews, your end is near”; “Dirty Jews” and “Let’s burn synagogues.” Swastikas have appeared on some shops owned by Jewish merchants.
In Milan an Israeli flag – part of an exhibition of the world’s flags, ahead of the international Expo Milano 2015 event – was recently vandalized and since then has been guarded by policemen. A synagogue was vandalized in Vercelli, a town in northwest Italy.
Concurrently, many Jewish communities have stepped up security. Last week, Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, met with Minister Alfano to discuss related concerns.
In the meantime, some note that incendiary rhetoric is also being used in the pro-Israel camp. A pro-Israel website, Informazione Corretta, published an editorial hinting that Israel should threaten the use of atomic weapons as a deterrent against Hamas. A similarly oriented website, called Rights Reporter, attacked the presence of “so-called well-integrated Muslims” in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
Moreover, a well-known columnist, Fabrizio Rondolino, has published an editorial in the leftist Catholic newspaper Europa, stating that “the death of children [in Gaza] is not a problem [as long as] the war is a just one.”