Italian Jewish actor Moni Ovadia has distanced himself from Milan's Jewish community, calling it a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
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"I no longer want to be part of an entity called a Jewish community that is nothing but a government propaganda bureau," the 67-year-old actor told the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano last week.
Ovadia, an actor and musician who attracts thousands to his Yiddish cultural productions, is known for his left-wing politics and strong criticism of Israel's occupation and settlement policies. His views, which he expresses in a column in left-wing newspaper L'Unita, have angered many Italian Jews, who have called him a "traitor" and an "enemy of the people."
In his interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano, he claimed that the Milan Jewish community had barred him from a Jewish festival in September because of his opposition to Israeli government policy. For its part, the community said it did not invite Ovadia to take part in the festival for artistic, not political reasons, according to spokesman Daniele Nahum.
"The violations of international law and the infringement on Palestinian rights have been going on for more than 50 years," Ovadia said, adding that he relies exclusively on Israeli sources for such information. "I say things that are moderate compared to what Gideon Levy and Amira Hass write in Haaretz. Today a good Jew is not someone who observes Torah commandments, but one who supports Tel Aviv."
Ovadia also said convicted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was "banalizing evil." Berlusconi, who was found guilty earlier this year of tax fraud, has said his children feel like the Jews under Hitler. "Berlusconi got us used to the lowest levels of vulgarity and ignorance," Ovadia told Italian daily La Repubblica. "I suggest that he visit the Holocaust museum."
Ovadia wears a large colorful skullcap that has become his trademark even though he is not religiously observant. In a 2006 interview with Haaretz, he said his Jewish identity is very important to him, adding that Judaism is a major revolutionary idea in the highest sense of the word.
Ovadia, who was born in Bulgaria, arrived in Milan at age 4 with his family and was educated at a Jewish school. In 1972 he founded a folklore musical troupe and began appearing in musical theatrical productions including "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Golem."
He has drawn an avid following among many Italians for performances where he deals with anti-Semitic stereotypes through satire, depicting himself as the "Jew boy that you have always despised."