Alessandra Mussolini, an Italian politician and member of the European Parliament, threatened to take legal action against anyone offending her grandfather, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, galvanizing Italian Jews and anti-fascism activists to take her to task on social media.
Mussolini, who is a staunch defender of the public image of her grandfather and until recently a member of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right wing party Forza Italia, tweeted what she called a “warning” to netizens, writing last week that she would “monitor” and “bring to court” anyone posting “images and/or sentences” disrespectful of the memory of her grandfather.
According to Italian law, heirs are entitled to file defamation complaints on behalf of their deceased relatives. Although Italy’s 1952 “Scelba law” forbids “publicly glorifying representatives… of fascism,” the law is seldom enforced.
Mussolini’s tweet received thousands of likes and comments, many carrying fascist imagery and slogans. One of the tweets that the younger Mussolini “liked” was a tweet claiming that the “Jewish Zuckerberg” lets the “Jewish media” impose “political correctness” policies on Facebook. According to Libero, a right-wing Italian newspaper considered sympathetic to Mussolini’s views, the Italian MEP also liked a post claiming that “all anti-fascists are Soros supporters”.
Benito Mussolini founded Italy's Nationalist Fascist Party and turned the country into a totalitarian state after coming to power in 1922. During his twenty-year-long rule, Mussolini stifled basic freedoms, persecuted minorities, and allied himself with Nazi Germany during WWII. Around 8,879 Italian Jews were killed under his regime, mostly toward the end of the war.
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Alessandra Mussolini’s threats were too much to bear, former president of the Jewish community in Rome Riccardo Pacifici told Haaretz. “We don’t know whether she had a nervous breakdown or thought she could reap political benefits [from this], but Mussolini’s threats were outrageous, even more so since she is an Italian member of the European Parliament” he says.
“Six million Jews killed and 75 years were not enough for her to understand” what the fascist regime did, a statement he issued on behalf of the Rome community said.
Prompted by Pacifici, Rome’s Jewish community launched a Twitter campaign against the younger Mussolini, with users sharing stories about the anti-Semitic persecutions their families suffered during WWII. The tweets were accompanied by the hashtag “#MussoliniDimettiti” - or, “Mussolini resign” - calling on her to step down from the European Parliament. The hashtag #LeggiRazzialiInfamiaItaliana, meaning “Racial Laws Italian disgrace,” were also used.
Italy is now marking the 80th anniversary of the fascist regime’s Racial Laws: the legislation, which was announced by Mussolini in 1938 and included the expulsion of Jewish students and teachers from public schools, the barring of individuals Jews from holding public positions and seizure of business and property.
Roberto Della Seta, a Jewish italian environmentalist politician and writer, tweeted: “Thanks to Benito Mussolini, my 16-year-old father was expelled from school, and thanks to his followers sixteen of my family members were handed over to the Nazis and were eventually gassed in Auschwitz. Do I offend you [Alessandra Mussolini] if I say your grandfather was a criminal?
Enrico Fink, a Jewish Italian musician and actor, wrote on Facebook: “Dear Alessandra Mussolini, I read you intend to sue anyone offending the memory of your grandfather. I totally understand your feelings: your grandfather was killed [at the end of the war], you never got to meet him, and you are sorry about that, you want to defend his memory… We have a lot in common, my grandfather was also killed, I also never met him, and I’m also sorry about that … But the problem is that the person responsible for the death of my grandfather, well that’s your grandfather (...).”
Mussolini, who is also the niece of Sophia Loren, left Berlusconi’s “Forza Italia” for a short stint as an independent and recently announced her intention to switch to Italy’s far-right party “The League,” led by Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. Critics view the party as Islamophobic and xenophobic, partly because of its tough stance on migration. The League successfully ran on a nationalist platform, promising to put “Italians first” during the last elections in March, and then formed a government with the Eurosceptic anti-establishment 5 Star Movement.
Since becoming interior minister, the League's Salvini has attempted to block ships that rescue migrants at sea from docking in Italy and has promoted policies that critics have dubbed racist, such as a plan to make a census of Italy’s Roma community. Mussolini has been supportive of these actions and said in an interview recently to the newspaper “Il Tempo” that “finally Italy stands up for itself.” Asked about her possible entry into “The League,” she said after her son had his electric bike stolen he told her “Either you get into the League or I’ll get in myself,” implying it must have been stolen by migrants.
“There real issue here isn’t Alessandra Mussolini’s stupid initiative, which will have little if any legal consequences,” said Pacifici. “The real problem is that there is a political climate in Italy where people feel they can uphold the figure of Mussolini and gain support,” says Pacifici, “the most shocking thing is that no institutional figure from the new populist establishment raised his voice against the MEP,” he concluded.