Fake Mea Culpa

In the past several years there has been a steady drumbeat of attacks on “Zionism” by European educators, politicians and media that amount to thinly disguised anti-Semitism. One that came to light this past week was particularly poignant, and not in a good way.

A Facebook post by an administrator at an Islamic university in Italy called for the “final solution” and “complete extermination” of Zionists. This shockingly raw anti-Semitic post was taken down after the Italian Jewish community and the Israeli Embassy in Rome protested to authorities.

JTA reports that the post was published in early August by Rafello Villani, the administrative secretary of the Islamic University Foundation of Lecce, in southern Italy. Villani’s exact words: “another final solution…but this time done well…that’s what should happen. but for the zionists (sic)…just for them, complete extermination. The real Jews are the victims.”

Villani’s hateful quote might have gone unnoticed but for the fact that the post was flagged on Aug. 4 by Osservatorio Antisemitismo, an anti-Semitism monitor supported by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI. The post was taken down after the UCEI and the Israeli Embassy in Rome made a joint protest to authorities.

Villani was disgustingly snarky and unrepentant in his response to the incident, posting a defense of his opinions:

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“Once again I have to give a lesson in Italian {…} Anti-Zionist does not mean being anti-Semitic. They are 2 completely different things. Now to those who insist on confusing them, I say grab a dictionary and read it. Maybe they would understand more. Thus, to you who choose to not understand I say: I defend the Jews who suffer the persecutions of stupid racists and their Zionist fellow countrymen. I will never defend, in fact I will fight against the Zionists who impinge on the freedom of the peoples of the world, including their fellow Jews.”

This is a well-practiced road by now, this claim that attacks on Zionism do not comprise attacks on Jews. And while criticisms of government practices in Israel are fair game as they are with respect to any other country, Villani’s excuse is not only feeble but also utterly disingenuous.

First, to suggest that a nation that belongs to the United Nations like most others should be wiped off the map, as Villani clearly does with his concept of eradication, is to treat Jews differently from all others in the world. Villani does not say that any nation organized under Arab or Muslim principles, for instance, should suffer the same fate. Therefore, whether from a cultural or religious perspective, he’s denying Jews the same right to a homeland as others.

But second and most disgusting is Villani’s use of words like “final solution” and “extermination” regarding Zionists. To do so shows his willingness to invoke the most pernicious of eras, and the genocide of the Holocaust, in furtherance of his aims. To think that any group of Jews would not take that reference as a clear threat to our well-being shows ignorance at best and serious malevolence at worst. And for Villani to lecture the public on not understanding Italian is particularly ironic and off, as he clearly understands nothing when it comes to the sensitivities of using nouns that bear pain across the entire Jewish world to achieve his immoral aims.

Villani’s vile hatred was offset at least a glimmer last week as Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London and first Muslim elected mayor of a major European city, rejected the strongly anti-Israel Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn has counted Hamas and Hezbollah among his friends and has been notably unfriendly to Jewish voices within his own party. Khan, on the other hand, was during his campaign notable in his insistence on rooting out anti-Semitism within his own party. As the Light goes to press, there are reports that Khan is now being trolled with anti-Semitic tirades on social media. A sad response to Khan’s principled statement.

Kahn’s positive rhetoric is something we can look to as a hopeful sign regarding the future of European religious relations and the need to be vigilant in opposing anti-Semitism. Too bad we can’t say the same of Villani.