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Italy's president denounces antisemitism at Holocaust remembrance

Italy's president denounces antisemitism at Holocaust remembrance

Italy’s president on Friday denounced rising antisemitism and delivered a powerful speech in support of the Jewish people as he commemorated a Holocaust Remembrance Day overshadowed by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and a rise in anti-Israel acts.

In a ceremony at the Quirinale Palace attended by the premier and leaders of Italy’s Jewish community, Sergio Mattarella called the Holocaust “the most abominable of crimes” and recalled the complicity of Italians under Fascism in the deportation of Jews.

Also on Friday, Rome’s police chief ordered pro-Palestinian activists to postpone a rally in the capital that had been scheduled for Saturday, the actual day of Holocaust Remembrance.

Israel’s Jewish community has complained that such protests have become occasions for the memory of the Holocaust to be co-opted by anti-Israel forces and used against Jews.

Palestinian organisers said they would protest nonetheless, saying the potential for conflict with police was a small price to pay given the toll of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.

Mattarella’s time as president has been marked by strong affirmations in support of Jews. He said the 7 October attacks by Hamas against Israel were “a gruesome replica of the horrors of the Shoah.”

But Mattarella also expressed anguish for the mounting Palestinian death toll in Gaza as a result of Israel’s military campaign and called for fundamental human rights to be respected everywhere.

“Those who have suffered the vile attempt to erase their own people from the land know that one cannot deny another people the right to a state,” Mattarella said.

Antisemitic episodes in Italy hit an unprecedented high last year, with 216 incidents reported in the last three months of 2023 following the Hamas attack, compared to 241 in all of the previous year, the Antisemitism Observatory reported.

Overall, 454 incidents of antisemitism were reported last year, the biggest-ever increase.

Mattarella also strongly condemned the Nazi-Fascist regimes that perpetrated the Holocaust. Sitting in the audience was Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots but who has strongly backed Israel and supported Italy’s Jewish community.