Kol ha-Kavod, MP Segre!

Naples, Naples… who does not love Naples? The sea, the sun, thousands of years of history and of course the food… Unfortunately, the city of Naples also has its share of anti-Semites, and they seem to have become influential. Two years ago, the Council named a street after Yasser Arafat. The current Mayor never loses an opportunity to be photographed with the deranged, as long as they carry the Palestinian flag: last Summer it was a group of Arab athletes calling themselves the “Palestinian Olympic delegation”, some months before a “flotilla”, a fleet on route to Gaza pretending to carry humanitarian aids.

As if this was not enough, the City Council had recently welcomed a new councillor whose profile is, how can I put it, familiar and worrisome. Her timeline on social media looks like the scrapbook of a militant of Momentum: “Zionism and Judaism are two different things”, she claims. Therefore, apparently, it is acceptable to vomit against Israel the whole anti-Semitic repertoire: Israelis are child killers, Israelis are worse than Nazis; and violence against Israelis, even abroad, is, according to this nice lady, always for a good cause.

When the social media profile of that lady was exposed, it became a bit too much to bear for the strongly Mediterranean Jewish community of Naples, that has strong links with the Land of Israel since Medieval times. Some protests followed, the media paid due attention and then the city of Naples appeared on the press. This time not for the Camorra, or for the pizza, but for its anti-Semitism.

It was an uncomfortable situation, for the new Councillor, for the whole Council and for the City as a whole. The lady Councillor informed that she had decided to educate herself on the difficult topic of anti-Semitism. How? Under which guidance? Who knows. She added that she opposes every form of racism. And of course, we trust her. She gave no apologies; showed no signs of change and did not change her support for Palestinian terrorism. But she is now educating herself. A depressingly familiar scenario for us in the UK. We have seen so many Labourites following precisely this script.

Let me now mention Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor. Mrs Segre was arrested by the Germans in 1944, when she was a teenager and sent to Auschwitz, where she survived for 15 months escaping death, or “selections” three times. She was liberated in May 1945 by the Allies. Like many survivors, Mrs Segre began talking about her “journey to hell”, as she calls it, only many years after the liberation, with a famous interview in 1997. Since then, Mrs Segre had raised her voice in the public arena against racism, especially anti-Roma, and for women’s rights. One year ago, on the anniversary of the racist legislation, Mrs Segre was granted the honour of being nominated Senator for Life, which is the Italian equivalent of Lord: there are few of them in the Italian Parliament.

MP Segre continues her work on behalf of minorities and for civil rights. Recently she had tabled a proposal of law against online hate, which the Parliament approved. Not unanimously, though; the Right abstained. That was inside Parliament. Outside Parliament, things got worse. Nowadays extremists thrive on hate online. Internet and social media are essential for them. If you deprive the extremists of the possibility of harassing their adversaries, if you banish, or penalise, incitement to hate on social media, they are going to react furiously. And that is precisely what has happened. Things went rapidly bad for MP Segre after she tabled the proposal, and once the proposal was approved things got worse. According to some journalist’ reports, MP Segre received 200 hate messages and death threats per day!

I cannot even begin to imagine how she feels. I myself receive, two or three similar messages on a bad day, and five when things are really bad. 200 messages per day is a horrific quantity of hate and death threats, especially for a woman who literally carries on her body the wounds of hate. And the threats must have been very serious, as the Government has decided to put MP Segre under police protection.

And now the City Council of Naples comes onto the scene. Because when you are all over the media and the newspapers, and you are exposed as a Leftie kind of anti-Semite, and even in Parliament they talk about you as an anti-Semite, what’s the smartest thing to do? To show off that you are not an anti-Semite, you just hate Israel, what an important difference! Because Israel is evil and you are a good guy, and good guys are always on the side of the Jews when the Jews are victims.

So, here’s the genius strike by the Neapolitan City Councillor who hates Israel but loves the Jews. Granting MP Segre, the honorary citizenship of Naples. I mean, that is good PR, isn’t it? This lady is hated by the Nazis, she is Jewish, she is a survivor of the Holocaust: we will make her citizen of our town and no one will call us anti-Semites anymore, and of course we will continue to support every thuggery and violence, as long as the perpetrators wave the Palestinian flag.

Except that Liliana Segre, Holocaust survivor, has refused the honour. You heard me right. MP Segre sent the City of Naples a short, dry, polite reply, “No thanks, it is going to be too political”.

I don’t know how that antisemite City Counsellor took it. There has been no reaction from the Council and even the Mayor is silent. They like the Jews, they are fond of Holocaust survivors, but I suspect not of Liliana Segre anymore. To my knowledge, this is the first time ever that the honorary citizenship of a town is refused by the honoured person. The first time in Italian history. What a record Naples has established!

I think this is something for us all to learn from. It is true that anti-Semitism is on the rise. It is vital to have allies and friends. But what the Far Left offers us, with this persistent and annoying re-evocation of Cable Street and surrounding, is not support or alliance. They ask us to give up an important, vital element of our culture, of our religion, of our identity: the connection with Israel. They offer us protection against racism and anti-Semitism, on condition that we join them in their never-ending battle against the State of Israel. And this is unacceptable!

We cannot give Israel up. Judaism is not an abstract set of values. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam, that you can practice everywhere. It is that, but more than that. Judaism is the story of a people, our people, in which faith and identity and the return to the land of Israel play a central, important, fundamental part.

Such a story begins with this week’s Torah portion. Abraham acquired, with negotiation, the burial place for Sara, in the city of Hebron. It is at this moment that the link, the connection, of our people with the Land of Israel, comes into play. The love for Israel is a powerful element of our culture, passed on from one generation to another. It began with the tomb of a Matriarch; it developed in a kingdom; it blossomed in prayers and came to the realisation in 1948.

Those who require us to give up such an important part of our identity in exchange for some sort of protection, are asking us nothing less than betrayal and rightly Liliana Segre replied: “No thanks, this is going to be too political.”

Kol ha Kavod, MP Segre, and grazie tanto da tutti noi.

Brighton & Hove Reform Synagogue, 23 November 2019

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.