By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – A Vatican cardinal said on Friday he was “disgusted” by the anti-Semitic abuse of an 89-year-old Italian senator and Holocaust survivor who was given police protection after receiving death threats.
Segre, a survivor of the Auschwitz extermination camp who was made a life senator last year, had called for a parliamentary commission to investigate hate, racism and anti-Semitism. Her proposal was backed in a vote last month by most of Italy’s main political parties.
But right-wing groups abstained, including the League party which was part of the ruling coalition until September and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, arguing that it could criminalise nationalist rhetoric as hate speech.
She has since reported a wave of threats, which police said were serious enough to merit special protection.
“I am disgusted by this,” said Cardinal Miguel Ayuso Guixot, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, asked about the case at an event at a papal university in Rome with Ron Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress.
Lauder said political parties should expel any members who were anti-Semitic. Ayuso said he agreed.
“My responsibility is to promote inter-religious dialogue and for this I call on all people to work together,” Ayuso said.
Italy has been the biggest entry point for asylum seekers arriving in Europe across the Mediterranean over the past several years, and right-wing parties, especially the League, have seen a surge in support on anti-immigration platforms.
Opponents say they have tapped into a dangerous vein of xenophobia. The right-wing parties have so far declined to comment since police protection for Segre was announced.
Lauder said Italy risked forgetting its past as a Fascist ally of Nazi Germany.
“Italy cannot afford to be ripped apart again the way it was in the 1930s and 1940s. The people today don’t remember what happened,” Lauder said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)