Commentary. When Senator Liliana Segre, a respected veteran stateswoman, proposed a measure to monitor racism and anti-Semitism in Italy, the right-wing senators boycotted the vote. Fascism as a cultural and sentimental background has never been expelled from its identity.

The Italian right is not antifascist and it never has been

The letter written by Liliana Segre’s eldest son, Alberto Bellipaci, to the Corriere della Sera—“You don’t deserve my mother”—finally lays to rest the notion of the “good intentions” of the Italian right. The sentaror’s son’s harsh and bitter words aren’t really an attack on an ideology, which doesn’t come into the picture.

Instead, they are confirming and saying out loud that the Italian right is not anti-fascist and has never been, unlike the right in other European countries. The German Christian Democrats, the French Gaullists, the British Conservatives are all anti-fascist. Our right isn’t—it has never been willing to confront the almost 20 years of Mussolini’s rule, and has always tried to evade the question with rhetorical sleight-of-hand or by attacking the real or alleged “communists” and everyone who argued against them invoking the inescapably anti-fascist character of constitutional democracy. They did so in order to avoid taking responsibility, or in order to pretend to have clean hands without paying their dues.

Senator-for-life Liliana Segre has often pointed out this truth. I’ve known the senator for many years, and I’ve had the great privilege to be together with her, to share in and, above all, to listen to her testimony. Liliana Segre is, first and foremost, a human being of exceptional caliber, who was only 13 and a half years old when she had to face one of the most horrifying and despair-inducing experiences that can ever befall a person. The authoritative teaching encapsulated in her testimony is one of the most important and significant narratives of our time. This woman of exemplary dignity represents, both in herself and on account of the thought that she embodies, an inestimable part of world heritage. The anti-Semitic hatred campaign unleashed against her is an act of hatred against life itself, something firmly on the side of the “death drive.”

image of liliana segre

The behavior of the right in the Senate—its abstention en masse when faced with the proposal by Senator Segre to establish a commission with the task of monitoring the forms of racism and anti-Semitism (the measure passed)—is a very serious matter, because it displays collusion with and permissiveness towards the manifestations of racism, xenophobia and other acts of vandalism against the meaning of democracy, which can only exist where all people enjoy equal rights and dignity, and where it is not acceptable to have different classes of citizens based on the crime-inducing jus sanguinis, which is in fact unconstitutional. Above all, the blatant denial of the principles of universal human rights is an extremely serious matter.

Why did the right have no qualms about cutting such a miserable figure? Partly for instrumental reasons, but partly because fascism as a cultural and sentimental background has never been expelled from its identity. As if that were not enough, the representatives of this right boast that they are the most sincere friends of the Israeli government, which is welcoming them with honors and taking them on guided tours of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, complete with yarmulkes on their heads.

What is striking is the extraordinary mediocrity of the pretexts being invoked, as well as the base level of this backwoods-level right, made up of petty figures and sideshow “characters,” while there always seems to be someone ready to leap to their defense. For instance, Giorgia Meloni, who is now (mostly by default) considered to be a “skilled politician,” is claiming that her abstention was motivated by a concern to “defend the family.”

Everyone knows that the Brothers of Italy are marching behind the banner of the “God, Country, Family” triad, a staple of the tritest clerical-fascist rhetoric. But what “family” are they defending? Is it families for whom holidays mean religious trips to the shopping mall, who vegetate in front of the TV watching the stations of the Brothers’ ally, Berlusconi? It’s quite a feat to conclude that the enemies of their traditional family model are actually LGBT unions, the inexorable Muslim threat of migrants, etc.—and not consumerist society, which is the metastasis of neoliberalism. As for “country,” which one? The Italy of Mussolini, who handed it over to the Nazis, of whom—as he himself wrote to Petacci—he was merely a “puppet”?

Salvini, in turn, is changing his allegiances as often as his socks: green when this was all the rage, Italian-flag-colored as the fashion changes dictate, and black in his private meetings with far-right squads from various organizations. He’s not exactly a steady family man with his turbulent personal life, and while he kisses the rosary ostentatiously to prove that he believes in God, he’s ready to throw Pope Francis under a bus whenever the latter speaks about “the God who welcomes the foreigner.” 

Meanwhile, he has just shown once again how much of a loose cannon he is when he downplayed the Senate vote by invoking the plight of the ILVA workers—trapped between the prospect of joblessness and a deadly work environment—while not missing the opportunity to join in the lynching of the black soccer player Balotelli: “To me, an ILVA worker is worth ten Balotellis.” A class-act racist, indeed. 

As for Berlusconi, he likes his family open (to the point of accommodating his escorts), his allegiance is to his companies, both domestic and offshore, and as for God, he knows none other beside himself, nor will he accept anyone else in his image and likeness. This, more or less, is the right which is campaigning to govern us in the third millennium AD. Sovereignists, populists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, nostalgics pining for sheer Nazism of the worst kind.

They join the company of Marine Le Pen, Alternative fur Deutschland and the jokesters of the Visegrad group, headed by the Roma-hating anti-Semite Orbán. They are indeed “jokesters,” since they’re sucking so voraciously at the teat of European funds—from an EU which is giving tacit consent to the rejection of those who are different, of migrants, of asylum seekers, and to the erection of new walls—and use that to fuel hysterical nationalism, railing against their own golden goose as the enemy. It is in such fine company that Berlusconi is trying to enact his coveted liberal revolution of leben und leben lassen, “live and let live.” 

But the lodestar of this merry band of reactionary con men is Mr. “America First” himself, Donald Trump, who wants to decimate European economies with his tariffs and is trying to contribute to the disintegration of the European Union by lobbying individual EU members to “-exit,” aiming to make them into subservient satellites. 

It is in the context of this cultural backwater that anti-Semitism is rising up again, including in its classical forms.

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