A storm erupted in Italy on Sunday when a newspaper reported that the populist government was planning to cut its monthly stipend for victims of political and racial discrimination.
The story sparked uproar in the Jewish community, with the measure reportedly set to affect the elderly, including Holocaust survivors, who suffered from persecution under the fascist regime during World War II, as well as war veterans.
Italian newspaper La Stampa reported on a clause buried in the appendix of the proposed 2019 budget, saying it could become effective as early as November or December. The daily said the move would affect several thousand Italian citizens.
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Responding to the story, Union of Jewish Communities President Noemi Di Segni said: “As the institution representing all Italian Jews, we call on the parliament and the government to reconsider the measure,” adding: “Even if the timing and calculations [of the cuts] are still not clear, the moral aspect is at the heart of the problem.”
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She continued: “We are not even brave enough to tell the survivors what’s going on [with the cuts] – these people who struggle to tell the horrors of the Holocaust in their families, in front of students and teachers,” Di Segni said. “We don’t want to see that sense of desolation and abandonment in their eyes,” she added.
However, on Monday, the Finance Ministry issued a clarification, saying it would only be diverting “excess” money (a reported 50 million euros, or $57 million) from the special fund, and that the move would therefore not affect people who are already receiving the payments.
The special fund at the ministry provides minimal pensions – averaging around 500 euros a month – to victims born before 1945, or spouses and orphans of the persecuted whose income is below 17,000 euros a year, said La Stampa.
Originally tailored to help political dissidents who were persecuted by the fascist regime, since the mid-1980s it was also extended to a number of Italian Jews who were able to provide proof of persecution.
Di Segni said that such pensions are hard to get, because survivors are required to provide “absurd documentation” such as papers from the 1930s and ’40s to prove they were persecuted, and that the bureaucratic red tape is endless.
The Union of Jewish Communities said Monday that it welcomed the clarification, saying that “according to the updates” the cuts are only adjustments due to “the natural decrease in the number of beneficiaries.”
However, it added it will continue fighting to make access to such pensions easier. Meanwhile, critics both inside and outside the Jewish community insisted the cuts were symbolically unacceptable regardless of their reach.
Rome’s new governing coalition was formed last spring by the far-right, anti-immigration League party and the grassroots antiestablishment populists of the Five Star Movement. This is their first budget.
The country is marking the 80th anniversary of the promulgation of its Racial Laws, which legalized racial discrimination against Jews. After September 1943, with the Allies invading Italy from the south and the Mussolini regime collapsing, Germany invaded its former ally and established the puppet state of the Italian Social Republic, which played a major role in the deportation of over 7,000 Jews. In total, some 7,172 Italian Jews died in the Holocaust (or 8,879 when factoring in the island of Rhodes, which was under Italian rule at the time). Some 12.5 percent of the Jews who were deported survived.
Also in Italy, an estimated 2,000 fascists marched Sunday in Predappio, where former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was born and is buried. They were commemorating October 1922’s March on Rome, which brought Mussolini to power.
A member of the far-right Forza Nuova (New Force) drew attention by wearing a T-shirt sporting the slogan “Auschwitzland” and a logo merging Disney’s famous castle with the infamous image of the entrance to the Nazi death camp. The marches occur in Predappio every year, notably to mark the birth and death of Mussolini, and the aforementioned March on Rome.
JTA reported that photos of activist Selene Ticchi wearing the T-shirt went viral. In a video, Ticchi described her choice of T-shirt as "black humor."
However, the ANSA website reported Monday that Forza Nuova had suspended Ticchi from the Bologna branch of the movement "indefinitely and with immediate effect" for wearing the offensive garment.