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Manfred Gerstenfeld on Figli di un dio locale: Giovani e differenze culturali in Italia

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)


Italian Prejudices against Jews and Israel

Figli di un dio locale: Giovani e differenze culturali in Italia. (Sons of a Local God: Youngsters and Cultural Differences in Italy), by Enzo Campelli, FrancoAngeli, 2004, 244 pp. [Italian]

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

In 2003, a major opinion survey was taken of about 2,200 Italian youngsters aged fourteen to eighteen. They were asked sixty-one questions about their attitudes toward cultural differences and racism. The poll was financed by the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy. Sixty-six percent of the interviewees defined themselves as Catholics and 13 percent as believers who do not identify with any religious creed (31).

This survey formed the basis of a book by Enzo Campelli, who teaches social-science methodology at the La Sapienza, Rome University. The book offers many insights into the youngsters’ worldviews, perceptions of cultural diversity, prejudices, and inclinations to racism.

Distilling the issues concerning Jews reveals that the approximately thirty thousand Italian Jews-about one in every two thousand Italians-are not seen as full-fledged Italians by part of the nation’s population. This is despite the fact that Jews have lived in Italy since before the Christian era, played an important role in Italy becoming an independent state in the late nineteenth century, and that early in the twentieth century Italy had a Jewish prime minister, Luigi Luzzato, and several other Jewish ministers as well as generals.


The People Most Different

When asked which category of people the youngsters considered most different from themselves, 37 percent named those at the margins of society-drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless. Twenty-seven percent mentioned the Jews, while 19 percent referred to ethnically diverse people such as Africans, Arabs, Slavs, and Gypsies. The ideologically different, such as communists and fascists, were cited by 17% (95).

Asked what is their primary source of information, the highest number of youngsters-about 40 percent-mentioned the school. It was followed by television, about 21 percent. Family came in a distant third at 10 percent, and religious instruction and discussions with friends scored 8 percent each. Not more than 5 percent said newspapers were their main source (129).

Only 7 percent of the interviewees had contacts with Jews. Seventy-six percent said the reason was that there was no occasion. This seems logical in view of the low number of Jews in Italy and their concentration in Rome and Milan, with much smaller numbers in a few other major cities. Sixteen percent said they lacked such contact because it did not interest them (132).


Meeting Members of Minorities

The poll found that among youngsters describing themselves as extreme-Left, there is substantially less resistance to meeting minority groups than among the sample as a whole. This pertains, for instance, to Africans, Arabs, Asians, and Gypsies. There is only one group for which the extreme Left’s resistance to meeting “others” rises above the median, namely, Jews. This is one more confirmation of the notorious anti-Semitism of the extreme Left (135).

When the youngsters were asked who would be the most problematic male partner for an Italian woman, the rankings changed radically. Gypsies topped the list at 38 percent, followed by Muslims at 37 percent, Arabs at 9 percent, Jews at 6 percent, and Africans at 5 percent. Regarding female partners for Italian men, there were only slight differences in the rankings: Gypsies, 47 percent; Muslims, 24 percent; Arabs and Jews, 8 percent each; and Africans, 7 percent (138).

Among the difficulties in living with a Jewish partner, youngsters considered religious differences the most important-18 percent, followed by differences regarding children’s education, 11 percent, and those in tradition, 10 percent (141).


Anti-Semitic Attitudes

As far as more direct anti-Semitic attitudes are concerned, about one-third of the youngsters consider that Jews wield financial control. In the Italian reality, this is tantamount to a hardcore anti-Semitic opinion. The same is true for the 20-25 percent who cite as negative traits of the Jews that they are the leading racists, feel superior to everyone else, are too attached to money, and can never be completely trusted. About 20 percent consider that the Jews exaggerate when speaking about the Holocaust, and close to 20 percent think the Jews should “return to Israel” (147).

The percentages of youngsters who have stereotyped opinions of all Muslims are substantially higher, from 30-65 percent depending on the questions. There is relatively little overlap between the anti-Semites and the anti-Muslims (148, 149).

There are other worrying findings. In Rome, where the number of Jews is highest, there is also an above-average number of anti-Semites. Leftists and extreme leftists are the dominant anti-Jewish racist group (150). There is also an above-average anti-Semitism among those youngsters who are relatively open to relationships with those who are culturally diverse.

Another poll undertaken of adult Italians by Paulo Merulla for Pier Lombardo Cultura found that 17 percent of the Italian population think it would be better if Israel did not exist. Only 43 percent of those interviewed had sympathy for Israel, whereas for the United States, France, and Japan this was well over 60 percent.

Twenty percent of the interviewees replied that Jews are not real Italians, and 10 percent believe that Jews lie when they claim that Nazism exterminated millions of Jews. Renato Mannheimer, a leading Italian sociologist, concludes that 19 percent of Italians are anti-Semites, a rate that increases to 34 percent among the less educated.[1] Both polls fit a pattern indicating that anti-Semitism continues to be an integral part of European culture.

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[1] Renato Mannheimer, “E antisemita quasi un italiano su cinque,” Corriere de la Sera, 10 November 2003. [Italian]