Italian Holocaust Survivor Placed Under Police Protection After Anti-Hate Campaign

Police in Italy placed a Holocaust survivor under protection on Thursday, after she called for the creation of an anti-hate parliamentary commission — and subsequently received a deluge of anti-Semitic threats.

Liliana Segre, 89 — who was sent to Auschwitz when she was 13 and became a life senator after years of educating young people about the Holocaust — has said that she receives about 200 anti-Semitic threats a day on social media.

Last week, lawmakers voted to approve Segre’s commission, which will combat hate, racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of racist or religious-based violence. But Italy’s right-wing parties abstained in the vote. 

Since then, Segre, whose father and grandparents were killed at Auschwitz, has received even more threats. On Tuesday, members of Italian far-right party Forza Nuova hung a banner protesting one of her events, where she was speaking to students, according to Italian media reports.

In response, officials in Milan, where she lives, ordered police protection beginning Thursday. According to HuffPost Italy, two officers from Italy’s military police force, the Carabinieri, will accompany Segre during her public appearances.

Segre declined to comment on being assigned a police escort, HuffPost Italy reported.

“It must be said that Liliana receives vastly more messages of support and solidarity than she does hate messages,” said Paola Gargiulo, her chief of staff.

“Forgive us Liliana. The politics of hate will not stop your commitment, nor ours,” Italy’s agriculture minister Teresa Bellanova tweeted Thursday.

The hate messages against Segre are part of a wave of racism, anti-Semitism and extremism in Italy and across Europe. 

“An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor under guard symbolizes the danger that Jewish communities still face in Europe today,” Dror Eydar, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, tweeted Thursday.

Earlier this week, Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli, whose parents immigrated to Italy from Ghana, received racist attacks during a match, including monkey chants.

“They’re still judging people by the color of their skin?” Segre said in response, according to the Associated Press. “There’s a good reason why this commission should get to work straightaway.”

According to HuffPost Italy, the Milan-based Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, which disclosed the hateful messages directed toward Segre on social media, has documented a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Italy.

Through the end of September, 190 anti-Semitic incidents had been reported this year, 120 of them on social media, according to the center’s data. That compares with 153 anti-Semitic incidents for all of 2018, and 91 for all of 2017. Some incidents included threats or aggression, such as a Jewish woman who was slapped this year in the northern province of Cuneo, and a Jewish professor who was spat on in Rome.

Ruth Dureghello, the head of Italy’s largest Jewish community in Rome, said the vote to approve Segre’s commission alongside “the manifestation of anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination and hatred are signals of a climate that has changed,” HuffPost Italy reported. 

She criticized the right-wing politicians for failing to support the commission.

“The right-wing [politicians] made a choice that I see as mistaken and dangerous at a crucial moment. Above all, for the history of the person who proposed the commission, they should have taken deeper consideration,” Dureghello said.

Giulia Belardelli of HuffPost Italy contributed reporting.

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