"The Jewish people as a whole will be its own Messiah. It will attain world domination by the dissolution of other races...and by the establishment of a world republic in which everywhere the Jews will exercise the privilege of citizenship. In this New World Order the Children of Israel...will furnish all the leaders without encountering opposition..." (Karl Marx in a letter to Baruch Levy, quoted in Review de Paris, June 1, 1928, p. 574)

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Fascism and Zionism

New contributor Suzanna Kokkonen provides an historical background to the Jews of Italy and describes in detail the existence of Jewish Fascists and their relationship to Zionism.

The Jews first came to Rome in the second century BC. After the destruction of the Second Temple thousands of Hebrew slaves were brought to Rome with the Emperor, and for some centuries the whole of Italian Jewish history coincided with the history of the community in Rome. The Roman Jewish community is the oldest community in the west. During the Renaissance and up until the emancipation Italian Jewry flourished culturally and artistically, even when lacking equal rights.

The uniqueness of Italian Jewish history does not lie in its ancient roots. Rather, Italian Jewish communities gained a unique position compared to the rest of Europe in terms of emancipation. Many scholars, including Benedetto Croce, Antonio Gramsci and Cecil Roth, have testified to this emancipation. For example, in the Kingdom of Sardinia Jews became emancipated on 29th March 1848. That year, and in the year that followed, 180 Jews joined the Sardinian army. In 1859, 12,000 Jews fought with Garibaldi. Immediately after the emancipation Italian Jews started to work for their country. This trend developed further and Italian Jews became senators, generals, and so on. The war of 1915-18 proved beyond doubt that Italian Jewry deserved equal rights; many of them fought and died for Italy.

Mussolini himself, although later on considered somewhat illogical, proclaimed equality between Jews and Gentiles, and indeed, Italian Jews attained absolute equality with the Gentiles. Many Italian Jews, such as Enzo Sereni, were thoroughgoing products of the Italian "Cultura and Civilta" – culture and civilization. Because of this uniquely favorable gentile environment it is hardly surprising that the Jewish communities only became fearful when Mussolini started to explore a potential friendship with Germany. Until then, Fascism had hardly been perceived as a danger to the Jewish communities at all. In fact, a contemporary Jewish writer went as far as to declare that Mussolini promoted a good brand of Fascism.

Statistical information as a reflection of the society

Statistical information is relevant and necessary when dealing with the topic of Italian Jewry. Only against the background of the statistical information can we understand the emancipation of Italian Jewry. Equally, Fascism and Zionism operated in a certain environment that statistics can partly explain.

It is difficult to give exact statistics for the number of Jews living in Italy during the inter-war period. There were Italian Jews who lived permanently in Italy; there were also Jews living in colonies outside Italy, and Jews who came to Italy for different reasons. Not all of the Jews even practiced Judaism as religion. Therefore, we cannot offer exact numbers; however, the number of Italian Jews in 1911 was about 32,825 compared to 39,112 in 1931 and 47,252 in 1938. Here we can see a growth that is related to the events in Austria in 1938, and the threat that Hitler posed to many Jewish communities outside Italy. Many experts have explained the emancipation of the Italian Jews demographically. All in all, the number of Jews in Italy was very small.

There were large differences between the different Jewish communities. In a survey from 1938 it turned out that the Northern Italian communities were cosmopolitan, non-religious and highly assimilated. On the other hand, in Rome there were many religious Jews, many of whom chose to live in the confines of the old ghetto. The community in Rome had a very high birth rate compared to other communities, which can probably be explained by the dominant religious values.

One of the most important statistics concerning the Italian Jewish emancipation relates to the intermarriage rates. In general, intermarriage was rather normal in Italy. However, the rates differ greatly between Rome and other communities. Among the male population of Rome's Jewish community there were about 5,7 mixed marriages between 1930-31, whereas in other communities the figure was about 39,1. Females married out less than males: the respective figures were 2,9 and 33,7. Mussolini began to see the question of intermarriage as increasingly important, and he resented the fact that so many Jews opposed intermarriage. Comparatively, however, in Italy the intermarriage rate was high.

The rate of intermarriage reflects assimilation amongst the Jewish communities. The last statistical information I would like to present refers to the almost complete absence of aliyah. Between 1926 and 1938 Jews made aliyah exclusively from Florence and Trieste – the country's biggest Zionist centers. The number of people who made aliyah in that period was only 151. Even when bearing in mind the small number of Jews living in Italy, aliyah was almost non-existent.

Fascism and Zionism in Italy began to expand at the same time. These were two ideologies competing for the souls of the Jewish community, and they both challenged Italian Jewish emancipation leading to a lively interaction between the ideologies. In this article my aim is to provide a picture of the confrontation between the two ideologies. On the one hand, I shall present the relationship between the ideologies within the Jewish community, and on the other, I would like to show how the ideologies confronted each other in society in general. The relationship developed in the inter-war years and, therefore, this will be the period I shall concentrate on.


Fascism and Italian Jewry

Until the Unification, the Vatican was a major force in Italy. At the end of the 19th century the Catholic church started a struggle against the Jews. This was probably due to two factors: first of all, this was a way for the church to try and break its isolation; and, secondly, the Austrian Christian-Socialist movement was very influential in the Vatican. The Fascist movement found it easy to side with the Vatican; leftists were enemies of both Mussolini and the Vatican. In the 20s, however, Mussolini showed a certain favoritism towards the Zionist movement. However, this was probably more of a warning to the Vatican than a meaningful undertaking with regard the Zionists. At the time Italian Jewry did not know how unreliable Mussolini could be, and how eager he was to advance his ambitions through any possible alliance.

In Italy, contrary to other European countries, anti-Semitism was not a strong political force. For instance, Mussolini declared to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Angelo Sacerdoti, that Fascism was neither anti-Semitism nor anti-Semitic. "The Jewish Problem does not exist in Italy," he said. Angelo Sacerdoti subsequently gave an interview to the L'Echo de Paris stating his sympathy with Fascism. Despite some violent incidents at the beginning of the Fascist era in 1926-27, Mussolini managed to normalize the situation to the extent that relations between Jews and Fascists were mutually cordial. Bearing in mind his complex personality, Mussolini's attitude towards Jews was at best ambiguous. When he believed that he could benefit from the world of international finance, he expressed sympathy towards Zionist aspirations. For example, when Mussolini wanted to expand Italian economic influence in the Mediterranean (Saloneki, Rhodes), he used the local Jewish communities as much as possible.

At the end of 1935, however, Mussolini overestimated the extent of the mythical "Jewish World Power". After the Ethiopian War, Great Britain was proposing sanctions against Italy. With Mussolini's consent, the Federation of Italian Jewish Communities sent a mission to London. Professor Dante Lattes and poet Angelo Orvieto – representatives of Jewish communities – accompanied the mission, whose aim was to persuade the British not to impose sanctions. Why did the Jewish communities agree to go to London? In 1935 they must have understood that sanctions might drive Mussolini (and Italy) to an alliance with Hitler's Germany…

The mission failed, and sanctions were imposed. Mussolini had already spoken about Zionism being a product of British Imperialism, and the campaign against Zionism got fully underway. The nationalist camp insisted that by being Zionist, the Jews put their own group's interests before those of the nation. In his usual illogical manner, Mussolini sometimes attacked and sometimes praised Zionist aspirations. The number of Jewish generals and admirals in the Italian army remained extremely high. Mussolini saw the Zionist Federation as a separatist movement, but at times he did not really care about its activities. Until the summer of 1937 he simply referred to Italian Jewry as Jewish Italians (Fascists) and Italian Jews (anti- or non-Fascists).

When an alliance with Germany became a strong possibility, the situation in Italy changed. Mussolini seemed to need to get rid of leading Jewish personalities in the army and in the party, and racial ideology was just what he could use to reach this goal, even though Mussolini himself never believed in any racial theories. However, when siding with Hitler's Germany, Mussolini could not have had a "Jewish army" – Hitler would not have accepted that. On the other hand, Hitler's Germany was flexible with Mussolini's Italy, and Mussolini was not forced to adopt racial policies. I think it is important to realize that German pressure with regard racial policy cannot be supported by any relevant source material.

Italian Jewry reacted to Mussolini's changing policies. In April 1935, Carlo Ovazza, a Jew from Turin, founded "La Nostra Bandiera", a Jewish Fascist group. Apparently the group wanted to clearly distinguish themselves from Zionist Jews. The presence of Italian Jews in the fascist movement was formidable from the very beginning, and the Jews were very active in the movement. On the other hand, as Formiggini points out, Italian Jews were divided in their attitudes towards fascism in the same way that the Gentiles were. Fascist propaganda tended to argue that having a Jewish identity was an explanation for non-Fascist leanings. Even though there was no official stand against the Jews at the beginning of the Fascist era, one-off incidents occurred and the Jewish identity of anti-Fascists was always accentuated by the press.

To summarize, fascism was not anti-Semitic and, therefore, many Jews joined the fascist movement. Mussolini, who to a large extent controlled the movement, had ambiguous feelings about Italian Jewry. He wanted to use the Jewish communities but, on the other hand, did not hesitate to join Germany at the expense of Italian Jews.

Italian Zionism

Italy was a hard country for Zionism to conquer. It is possible that Italian Jewry had a certain curiosity towards Zionism as towards their history and customs, but in Italy there was certainly no hierarchy of the free and the oppressed. The Jewish population occupied positions in all levels of society and in every political party. In addition, there was hardly any anti-Semitism. It is, of course, arguable whether anti-Semitism is necessary for Zionism to succeed. A famous Italian Jew and Zionist, Dante Lattes (born 1876), believed in the connection between the two phenomena. In Russia, the anti-Semitic pogroms produced Zionists who came to totally reject their old countries. According to Lattes, Italy's assimilated Jews could not do the same: even if an Italian Jew became a Zionist, he would never cease to be an Italian. In fact, Lattes believed that an Italian Jew was primarily an Italian and only then a Jew. Lattes attributed this to the fact that even though assimilation was a danger to Italian Jewry, the lack of anti-Semitism made Italy an ideal country for the Jews. Italian Jews were merely Italians of Jewish faith.

Because of the fast-developing relationship between the Jewish communities and the Fascist regime, the Unione delle Comunita Israelitiche Italiane was established in 1930. One of the most important messages of the Union was the "fact" that Judaism and Italian Jewry in general had nothing to do with Zionism. The leaders accentuated individual Jew's responsibilities as opposed to those of the Union, which was not a Zionist movement. For their part the Zionists tried to educate the Fascist party about Zionism. They maintained that Zionism could be useful to Italy's political interests, and they also tried to make the rest of the Jewish community more aware of Zionism.

The first phase of Italian Zionism – from roughly 1900 to the First World War – was devoted to organizing humanitarian help for Eastern European Jewry. The inter-war period was formative in terms of ideology and theory, while only after 1935 did the Zionist movement realize that the tide had turned, and that it would pay the price for Fascism. Racism and anti-Semitism did not really gain momentum in the Italian political climate. Much could be said about the reasons for this, including the Italians themselves, their character, and the old civilization. But the fact remains that anti-Zionism did resonate in Italy, and Mussolini learnt to exploit this to the full. In the previous section we saw that Mussolini thought that Zionism was linked to British aspirations in the Middle East: it was easy to start a campaign of propaganda and intimidation in the Fascist press in a totalitarian state.

As usual Mussolini acted illogically. In 1923 he met with Chaim Weizmann. In Weizmann's memoirs, which were later criticized by Dante Lattes, he only wrote about his uneasiness after the Second World War. Lattes felt that Weizmann did not understand the relationship between Fascism and Zionism in Italy, and that he did not comprehend the unique relationship between Jews and Fascists either. Mussolini also received Doctor Jacobson, a member of the Zionist Executive. A committee for Italy-Palestine was founded as a result, and afterwards Mussolini met with Nahum Sokolov. I would like to speculate on the empty promises that Mussolini would have made at the time. He did not yet know whose side he would join and he believed in "Jewish Finance" and "World Power". In fact, Mussolini thought Hitler was making a big mistake by deploying anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Regardless of Mussolini's maneuvers there was fear among the Italian Jewish communities, and the Zionists became increasingly isolated from the larger community. The Revisionist movement under Leone Carpi's leadership sought to combine Zionism with "Italianesimo", Italianism, and the movement's paper was called "L'Idea Sionistica", the Zionist Idea. In Rome, Dante Lattes was the editor-in-chief of the Zionist paper, "Israel", which Mussolini had delivered to his home. More often than not Lattes filled the pages with direct messages to Mussolini. What kind of messages? Obviously, messages that would convince il Duce that Italian Jews could be Zionists and still remain loyal Italian citizens.

In a way, Zionism in Italy was sleeping until Fascism aroused it from its slumber. Zionism only became politicized when forced to face the threat from Fascism. Italy was a very difficult country for the Zionist movement, and Italian Jewry in general wanted to disassociate itself from the Zionist movement. Does this mean that the Zionists were better equipped to face what was coming? Finally, Lattes argued that it was not Fascism itself that broke off relations with Jewry – the decisive factor was the alliance with Germany. According to Lattes, earlier anti-Fascism amongst Jews was not a result of Judaism but rather a result of being Italian. Naturally, there were Italian anti-Fascists.

Zionism started as a very marginal movement, and Fascism was popular amongst Italian Jewry. Zionism became more political because of the attention it received from the fascist movement. The Zionists became isolated within the Jewish Community. Finally, the alliance with Germany drove Mussolini's Italy to the path of anti-Semitism and racial theories.

By: Suzanna Kokkonen



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home