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Address by Pierferdinando Casini
President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies
to the Rome Conference: "Anti-Semitism - A Threat To Democracy"
December 16, 2004

I am delighted to be able to extend my warmest greetings to my friend Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and with him to the Chief Rabbi of Rome's Jewish Community, Riccardo Di Segni, and to all those present.

I believe that to be able to address the issue of anti-Semitism today, in a practical and profitable manner, a number of fundamental points must first be established, so that we can draw on the lessons of history.

I should like to begin with a statement of fact. Europe has been the theatre of the most tragic and horrific manifestation of anti-Semitism that history has known. There is no doubt that Europe can be considered to have plumbed the lowest depths to which humanity can fall when the intransigent defence of the dignity of the human person yields to an irrational and uncontrolled aversion to those who are different from us.

And yet Europe managed to pullout of the chasm. What prevailed - not only because of military supremacy - were the lofty ideas that today govern the free and democratic world. Europe was rebuilt thanks to the unambiguous and unchallenged affirmation of principles that were diametrically opposed to the distorted and perverse arguments that had fuelled anti-Semitism.

"In Europe, as in Italy, the seeds of racism and anti-Semitism continue to lurk with all their destructive potential."

It is on these same bases that the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe has been built, which all of us hope can lead to the creation of a fully political European home capable of gathering together all nations that endorse the same project of peace, stability and development, marked by a common identity.

This is why I am utterly convinced that a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe as a mass phenomenon is absolutely out of the question.

I am aware of the disagreements and divisions that recently surfaced in Europe when trying to frame an agreed common foreign policy approach, particularly to the Middle East and the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These were real difficulties, which have to be overcome and resolved as soon as possible in the name of the credibility and authority of Europe's presence in the concert of nations.

I think I can safely say, however, that all of those uncertainties in no way reflected any uncertainty about values, that is to say, about our unconditional condemnation of anti-Semitic attitudes. Indeed, I would say that the most powerful antidote to the endemic spread of this evil is precisely the idea of Europe that we are close to bringing to final completion.

I am personally convinced that the same thing can be said, a fortiori, about Italy, which has been a convinced advocate of the idea of Europe ever since it was first mooted. Our country has a grave and indelible responsibility towards history, which it is not authorized to evade or to play down: I am thinking of the race laws that were introduced into Italy amid the indifference of the majority, which gravely split the moral cohesion of the national community that had been built up in the process of national unification, at the cost of tragic and terrible sacrifices to which the Italian Jewish community, the world's oldest, also contributed.

Yet in Italy, the force of human reason eventually prevailed. The path was enlightened by the courage of our fellow Italians who today are numbered among the Righteous among Nations: Giorgio Perlasca and Giovanni Palatucci, to mention but two of the best-known. But it was the whole country that responded in practice to those who believed they could tie their future to the fanatical profession of violence, barbarism and extermination.

Today, the steadfast and unconditional condemnation of anti-Semitism forms part of the heritage of absolute and unyielding values shared by all Italy's political forces, however much they may differ in terms of their histories and cultural traditions.

Recent initiatives taken by Italy's leading institutional authorities have given tangible and undeniable proof of this truth. Anyone that may still harbor doubts in this regard can only do so out of prejudice - something that has no citizenship whatsoever in a mature and accomplished democracy.

Yet we are faced daily in the news with a fact that we cannot ignore: in Europe, as in Italy, the seeds of racism and anti-Semitism continue to lurk with all their destructive potential. Given this situation, the greatest error we have to avoid is to to close our eyes to the problem, relying on the fact that those who profess racist and anti Semitic sentiments are isolated in what is generally a healthy public opinion.

As I have just said, the ideal tools for addressing this situation do exist. But it would be extremely serious if we were to refrain from using their full force out of superficiality or indolence. All of us, in the institutions and in civil society itself, are duty-bound never to lower our sights against racial hatred and anti-Semitism, even when that malignant growth seems to be on the verge of extinction once and for all.

It would be even more grievously wrong at this moment, when anti-Semitic attitudes are taking on a new and insidious character. Contemporary anti-Semitism finds fertile soil in which an indistinct mixture of racial prejudice, religious hatred and political judgments are confused to the point that they are no longer able to be separated.

One only has to think, for example, of the attitude of those who equate criticism of the policies pursued by Israel's governments criticism which, in itself, is clearly rightful and is also levelled by Israeli citizens themselves, as in all democratic countries, - with the denial of the State of Israel's right to exist.

In my opinion, it is a matter of priority to speak out truthfully and clearly. While this is the challenge, the instruments for successfully addressing it are obvious: the muddle of ignorance and approximation on the part, unfortunately, of many young people in Europe today can only be dispelled by a thorough and objective familiarity with the events of history, and by carefully preserving the remembrance.

The issue is therefore essentially cultural in character. And much has already been done in this regard already. A great deal of merit lies with civil society, of which the Anti-Defamation League is outstanding worldwide in disseminating the values of tolerance, dialogue between cultures and religions, and the mutual recognition of diverse identities.

There is certainly much more to be done, and the institutions have a decisive part to play.

As far as Italy is concerned, I can say with satisfaction that after the institution in 2000 of the Day of Remembrance, the institutions have embarked on numerous and extremely important initiatives to stave off the threat of anti-Semitism by preserving the memory of the Holocaust and spreading more broadly an understanding of the contribution made by Judaism to the progress of civilization.

This same cultural approach underlay the OSCE Conference on anti-Semitism held in Berlin last spring, which ended with the adoption of a very important Declaration condemning once again and without reservations every manifestation of anti-Semitism.

In this connection I believe that a broader establishment of the multilateral method - not only at governmental level but also in the fora for inter-Parliamentary debate - could make an extraordinary contribution in this direction. And this would be particularly true if the multilateral institutions were to put into practice, unconditionally, the values of how to reach out in readiness to listen to others, which is necessary to overcome stand-offs and misunderstandings.

We remain aware that no initiative will be meaningful unless it forms part of a process leading to greater responsibility and broader development, which cannot tolerate breaks or weakening our guard. And I think that it is on this that any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will largely depend.

The present phase contains novelties and great political ferment, which is raising the hopes of us all that the path that has been undertaken so often in the past, and then abandoned, will be carried through to completion this time. The international community, however, cannot sit back passively and wait for a miracle to happen. It has a specific obligation to fulfill: to back up every effort being made by the parties directly involved, unceasingly striving to remove, once and for all, the barrier of prejudice and diffidence which, for more than half a century, has marked the destiny of that land, and with it the destiny of the whole world.

This is a decisive condition for achieving the objective to which Italy has long been committed with conviction, to establish peaceful coexistence between two peoples and two States, respecting the interests of each but, above all, in the name of the primacy of the interests of humanity and peace.

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