Attacks on Liliana Segre Illustrate Italy’s Intolerance Problem


This goes beyond political posturing. The fact is, Italy’s right-wing parties draw support, both moral and electoral, from far-right elements. CasaPound, a far-right group that organizes the demolition of Roma encampments, has supported the League. Salvini hasn’t endorsed its support, but he hasn’t disavowed it either. Abstaining from voting for the committee fits in this pattern. “When you propose a parliamentary committee to investigate language which is useful for the League, it’s impossible for the League to vote for it,” says Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, the director of Milan’s Center of Contemporary Jewish Documents, which conducted the study into anti-Semitism that found Segre was a target.

“The direct and continuous attacks on Liliana Segre, in my view, is not haphazard anti-Semitism,” he told me. They are aimed at Segre “because she has started to do politics. And she’s doing it in a very weighty and direct and intelligent way.”

Segre proposed the Senate committee to monitor hate speech after speaking out this month about how she sometimes receives hundreds of anti-Semitic messages a day. (According to the study, the slurs include: “professional Jew”; “jerk”; “senile old lady”; “senator with no merits who profits off the Holocaust.”)

In a recent interview, Segre said that she thought her online attackers were troubled people who needed treatment. “They’re serial haters who need to hate someone,” she said. “Wasting time writing to wish death on a 90-year-old, anyway nature will soon take care of that.” “I don’t forgive,” she added about her experience at the hands of the Nazis. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, but I don’t hate.”

The populist right today in Italy and elsewhere derives much of its power from anger and hate, especially toward immigrants. The attacks on Segre are part of a broader wave of intolerance here. Last weekend, fans shouted racist slurs and made monkey noises at Mario Balotelli, a soccer player for Brescia and a star of Italy’s national team. Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and raised by Italian foster parents, has emerged as a critic of Salvini, and has spoken out against the racism he has faced.

Late Friday, Italian media reported that Salvini met with Segre that afternoon at her home in Milan. What words the two exchanged aren’t yet known. Salvini didn’t post anything about the meeting on his active Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Last weekend, Segre told Corriere della Sera that “if he comes, I’ll offer him tea, cookies, a coffee, but certainly not a mojito”—a reference to Salvini’s appearance last summer shirtless at a beach club, drinking his cocktail of choice. How Salvini and his allies respond to Segre publicly will determine what kind of country Italy wants to be: one that reckons with its fascist past, or one that celebrates it or banalizes it for political gain.

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Rachel Donadio is a Paris-based staff writer at The Atlantic, covering politics and culture across Europe.


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