Posted: July 22, 2002
On July 17, the Jewish section of Rome's historic Verano cemetery was desecrated -forty headstones were smashed and several graves and tombs were opened or disturbed - marking the first time the wave of anti-Semitism that had been surging across Europe had directly affected Italy.
ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, who was in Rome when the anti-Semitic vandalism occurred, likened the current feeling of uncertainty amongst Jews in Europe to feelings held by Jews in the late 1930s and 1940s. "Jews today feel more vulnerable than they did 50 or 60 years ago. Good people in Europe have told us 'be less Jewish. Don't wear a skullcap. Maybe change the sign on the school bus,'" he said. "What Jews should be hearing is 'be as Jewish as you want. We will embrace you. We will protect you.'"
Without a motive or a suspect, Italian authorities could only offer messages of sympathy and support for the 35,000 members of the Italian Jewish community.
After meeting with Mr. Foxman, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi condemned the crime, which occurred on Tisha B'Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning, saying "not even Rome is immune from the barbarity of anti-Semitism."
"Everybody I talked to felt offended, because it sullies the reputation of Italy," said Mr. Foxman. "They would like to feel that they're different. I told them that this is a virus that knows no frontiers."