On March 29, 1516, the Venetian Senate issued a decree declaring that all “Jews should live together” in a fenced and guarded area of the city. The area chosen had been used as a copper foundry (“geto” in old Venetian dialect). Thus, the first “ghetto” – the word the neighborhood’s polyglot residents gave it over time – came into existence.
Before being confined to the Ghetto, Venetian Jews lived on Giudecca Island, whose etymology derives from the origin of its inhabitants: the Jews. The fundamental difference between the two is that while Jews lived on Giudecca Island during the Middle Ages by choice, in the Ghetto they were forced to do so. Paradoxically, anti-Jewish prejudice, which led to the full-scale persecution of the Jewish people, resulted in not breaking, but rather reinforcing their identity.
After the establishment of the first Ghetto in Venice, others soon sprang up across Europe, including in Rome, where Pope Paul IV issued his papal decree Cum Nimis Absurdum.
“Since it is completely absurd,” declared Pope Paul IV in his opening line “[…] that the Jews […] live among us […] to the extent that not only have they mingled with Christians (even when close to their churches) and wearing no identifying garments, but to dwell in homes, indeed, even in the more noble [dwellings] of the states, territories, and domains in which they lingered, conducting business from their houses and in the streets and dealing in real estate; they even have nurses and housemaids and other Christians as hired servants. And they would dare to perpetrate a wide variety of other dishonorable things, contemptuous of the name Christian.”
The Catholic-Jewish relationship drastically changed for the better after the landmark Nostra Aetate in 1965, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, as well as papal visits to Rome’s synagogue and Israel.
In January 2018, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) held its annual “Day for deepening and developing dialogue between Catholics and Jews” (a session that has been held ever since 1970), which has the challenge of combating anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice.
Bishop Ambrogio Spreafico stated at the most recent CEI meeting, “Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice, which today is often linked to anti-Zionism, is by no means dead.”1
To illustrate his point, he cited a 2016 survey by the World Jewish Congress that recorded 382,000 anti-Semitic posts every 83 seconds on the web. “I don’t think that those who posted them are all atheists!” he concluded. Religious and academic institutions, which are based – in theory – on tolerance and free thought, have supported or even facilitated the abominable monster of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism 80 Years Ago
On September 5, 1938, at San Rossore in Pisa, the summer residence of the House of Savoy, Italy’s King Vittorio Emanuele III signed the first of the Italian Racial Laws. The document expelled all Jewish teachers and students from all schools and universities throughout the kingdom. Italian universities were involved and often accomplices in this process.
Today, after 80 years, Italian universities are apologizing for this infamy. Of course, throughout the past 80 years, Europe hasn’t come close to repeating the unspeakable horrors of Nazi-Fascism, and the social influence of Christian thought has completely revised its positions on anti-Semitism by condemning it categorically.
Yet, can it be said that Europe has ceased today to take anti-Semitic positions? And furthermore, what are the means to contain these manifestations?
The first question is easy to answer because Europe is not immune to espousing anti-Semitic positions. Neither the Europeans nor their leaders are responsible for this phenomenon. Once again, just as in the years leading to the rise of Nazism, economic and social difficulties are causing tremors throughout the old continent, and the latter has inspired new populism that often feeds upon fear or distrust of the other or instead propagates grandiose conspiracy theories involving insidious plots by some omnipresent and powerful global elite.
A study by the British government in 2017 revealed that anti-Semitic attacks have more than doubled in the United Kingdom since 2012. Another study conducted in 2017 by the British-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research reported that Jews are leaving Europe due to their growing anxiety about anti-Semitism.
According to the Italian Journalist Agency (AGI), “Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the Munich Security Conference in February 2018, spoke about how the Jews were also responsible for perpetuating the Holocaust,2 and a few days later he paid his respects at the grave of Polish fighters who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
Also in February 2018, the Bulgarian government led by Boyko Borisov, the current President of the European Union, authorized a rally by neo-Nazi groups in Sofia – despite international efforts to ban it – that annually honors the former Bulgarian war minister and leader of the pro-Nazi Union of the Bulgarian National Legions Hristo Lukov, who in 1930s promulgated the racial laws.3
However, the release of Europe’s anti-Semitic ghosts that were locked in history’s darkest closet doesn’t derive solely from the political Right. In Great Britain, the Labour Party is experiencing traumatic days due to the accusations directed at its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who even from the perspective of its moderate wing, has been flirting with the anti-Semitic components of the British Left. The accusations aren’t new, but a street demonstration in London on March 26, 2018, heard protesters shouting “for the many, not the Jew,” rephrasing Corbyn’s campaign slogan “for the many, not the few.”
In France, during the “white march” this past March in Paris to commemorate the death of an elderly Jewish woman, Mireille Knoll, 85, who was stabbed 11 times before her apartment was set afire by her Muslim neighbor, the leader of the far-right National Front Marine Le Pen and her the far-left counterpart Jean Luc Melenchon, who has been accused of being too soft vis-à-vis the anti-Semitic positions of part of the “Gauche,” were both booed and heckled by the crowd.
Now, please forgive me in advance for the following personal digression: when last May the New York Times journalist Jason Horowitz wrote an article where he cast doubt upon the new Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s academic resume, social media sites unleashed a series of attacks against me – guilty of knowing the journalist – and Mr. Horowitz, with an onslaught of anti-Semitic appellations and threats. The accusation, obviously unfounded, was that of an alleged Jewish and Zionist conspiracy against the nascent government.
Social transformation has always led people to search for an enemy outside their own borders or instead to claim that the presumed cancer comes from within, and this often coincides with an imaginary threat from the Jewish people. This process is as horrendous as it is natural, and today, it is diffused explosively across social media sites, which provide fertile ground from which to grow.
Here, I will attempt to answer my second question – what are the means to contain these anti-Semitic manifestations?
Please forgive me in advance for articulating a response based on a marketing mindset. It is true that the argument is so serious that the mere combination of concepts would seem sacrilegious, but in truth, in a world now dominated by social media networks and digital marketing more than ever before, there exists the possibility of attempting to curb this phenomenon of anti-Semitism.
New Tools for an Old Hatred
Israel is a brand recognized for its innovation. It has the highest per capita percentage of Nobel Prize winners in scientific fields, and even if, due to the structural reasons of its economy, there are no global Israeli brands, the world’s leading companies in innovation all have their research centers in Israel to tap into Israeli technology. So maybe it’s time to start from there.
Eighty years after the Italian Racial Laws were adopted against the Jewish intellectual and scientific community, it is precisely the world of science and technology where we must start again to affirm “Brand Israel.” Make it known to countries, heads of state, academics, the media, and influencers that Israel, a democracy where freedom of thought and research is safeguarded, is a certifiable start-up nation. Israel is the third nation in the world with the most companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, after the United States and China.
During the Vietnam War, people came to loathe the Coca-Cola logo, which was associated with the United States. But today, new generations love Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, with U.S. power standing behind them. Today, no one imagines boycotting Apple.
Israel must make itself known and loved by others as a start-up nation, a country where innovation thrives only a few hours flight away from the main European capitals. It must become a brand to defend and flaunt.
I imagine a near future, when the public squares will not be full of mournful faces that commemorate an umpteenth act of anti-Semitic violence, but instead are places where Israel’s commitment to excellence in the fields of renewable energy, agriculture, medicine, analytics, and artificial intelligence will be on display. I imagine a world where school children not only go to see what was and should never again be in Auschwitz, but also what Israel is capable of in terms of research and science.
Israel must win this battle, that of cultural-technological hegemony.
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