Recent Attempts to Censor Critiques of Zionism in Italy
Introduction, by Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro
It might be perplexing to some that concerns over the suppression of critical works on Zionism and on the State of Israel should find their way into CNSWeb. The issue is of fundamental importance to red-green discussions because of the nefarious, long-term repercussions that most forms of nationalism and all forms of settler colonialism, in any garb, have on any egalitarian prospects and on the ecological basis of human survival, by way of constant warfare, genocide, and environmental destruction, as Andrea Smith has so clearly explained with respect to ongoing settler colonialism in North America (see also the CNS special issue on this theme).
Moreover, fighting to end the support for settler colonial institutions, both within one’s country and elsewhere, is essential to those directly involved in struggles for self-determination. Just as socialism (not state-socialism!) cannot be built in one country, self-determination struggles cannot really succeed in one country. The ultimately unflattering outcomes of the exploits of national liberation movements should clearly indicate the perils of a lack of internationalism, of the presence of authoritarianism within self-determination struggles, as well as of the destructive effects of a lack of substantive support from without.
In this light, Diego Siragusa’s efforts below are highly relevant to anti-colonial and thereby red-green struggles in terms of understanding such struggles as simultaneously occurring beyond their immediate locations. In this case it is about Palestine, but it can just as easily be about, for example, the Kanienkehaka and Onondaga self-determination struggles in New York State (US) and their usually tightly linked environmental justice struggles. Even if not addressed specifically by Diego, the Palestinian struggle is at once a decolonisation and an environmental struggle, given the (greenwashed) environmental ravages of the Israeli state. The issue should therefore garner the attention of anyone interested in an ecosocialist future, or, in other words in making an ecologically-sustainable egalitarian world. There is also not a lot of information regarding pro-Palestinian work in countries like Italy, where governments have recently turned much more explicitly pro-Zionist and pro-Zionist propaganda has intensified. The Italian situation is eerily similar to many others within the EU and NATO, where the denial of the obvious prevails, including about their own sordid histories and present warmongering practices as well as about settler colonialism in Palestine.
Whether the strategies employed and illustrated below against ideologies like Zionism are deemed effective or useful towards objectives of egalitarian self-determination is something that should be openly and amicably debated. We would therefore like to invite readers who share the overall aims of CNSWeb not only to think about and participate in such dialogue, but more importantly to offer alternatives. One of us has courageously embarked on this touchy subject and is published alongside Diego’s report.
— Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro is Editor of Capitalism Journalism Socialism
Recent Attempts to Censor Critiques of Zionism in Italy, by Diego Siragusa
Within Italian as well as other Jewish communities, there is a habit of blackmailing public institutions and any associations that express criticism of Israel and Zionism. Any criticism, even the slightest, is branded with the accusation of being ‘anti-Semitic’. This is what happened recently in Trieste, where there was an international conference on Palestine featuring the participation of the great Israeli journalist Gideon Levy. It happened in Rome at the conference of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. It again happened in Recanati, when the Israeli ambassador pressured the mayor to prevent the screening of a documentary about the Israeli government crimes. And then it happened in Florence, and even more recently again in Rome.
The reason for the censorship in Rome was the presentation of Alan Hart’s book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, which I had the honor of translating into Italian and introducing. The event was planned with a Roman section of ANPI (National Association of Italian Partisans) and included the participation of three Jews. As soon as the leaders of the Jewish community were informed of this cultural event, they turned to the head of the provincial ANPI of Rome asking him to block the initiative because “the book is anti-Semitic.” Without as much as having read the book, without even knowing its contents, he obeyed and imposed on the organizers to cancel the event, declaring that the ANPI has “always” been close to the Jewish community, and equating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. A similar, but more attenuated statement came from ANPI national president Prof. Smuraglia. By this time, two of the three Jewish speakers had withdrawn their membership.
Despite this, the event was still held on December 7, 2015 thanks to the Grassroots Christian Community of St. Paul (Comunità Cristiana di Base di S. Paolo) who provided their office space. The event was quite successful, with much public interest. Aside from myself, present were my editor, Giuseppe Zambon, and Marco Ramazzotti Stockel, both Jewish. Ramazzotti Stockel, who had been on the Mavi Marmara ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, gave a great speech. The Mavi Marmara was the ship Israeli forces attacked on May 31, 2010, while in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, killing nine Turkish activists. Were they all anti-Semites?
As I was discussing Hart’s the book, during the event, a communication arrived that Roman Zionists, among who Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, were putting pressure on the organizing secretary of Rome’s Small and Medium Publishers’ Book Fair to prevent me from presenting the volume the following day at Corallo Hall, the Book Fair venue. The secretariat rejected outright any such censorship.
The next day, December 8, at 11 am, the presentation took place normally in a packed room and with a civilized and passionate debate. In the afternoon, the presentation of a book on the Jews of the Ghetto of Rome was scheduled with the participation of the Chief Rabbi Di Segni. Having failed to obtain the cancellation of my speech, he decided not to attend this book fair event, in ‘protest.’ Such childish and arrogant conduct clearly demonstrates that Zionists are convinced they can dominate the world and impose its will on anyone. The opinion of the Book Fair organizers, as reported in La Repubblica, starkly differed:
After the request to cancel the presentation – says coordinator Silvia Barbagallo – we have looked into the contents of the book to ensure that, beyond any rigid positions on Zionism and the Palestinian issue, there was nothing anti-Semitic. We have invited representatives of the Jewish community to meet us because their criticisms seemed excessive and politically motivated. We were at the event and we found no racist allusions. In our view, there was also nothing offensive in the book itself, and so we decided to go ahead with the event as scheduled.
This episode has had a significant effect on ANPI members, who were outraged and in many sections throughout Italy there were threats to tear up membership cards. The substance of the complaint has been: either you are with the oppressed or you are with the oppressors. You cannot stand with the Dtate of Israel, therefore, since it is a racist oppressor committing all sorts of crimes against Palestinians.
The consequence of the protest eventuated in a press release in which ANPI expressed a need for clarification:
In relation to what happened with respect to the non-presentation of the book “Zionism, the real enemy of the Jews” by Alan Hart (Zambon Publisher), a position has emerged that has been dictated by a series of circumstances caused by a heavy atmosphere that existing for some time and manifesting itself clearly during the celebrations of the last 25 April, the anniversary of Liberation from Nazifascism.
A more careful reflection on what happened leads us to believe that it is urgent and necessary to start as soon as possible on a democratic and thorough discussion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, starting as well with historical analysis linked to the facts in question. The ANPI of Rome rejects any kind of exploitation by any side, and will promote any initiative that attempts to bring into dialogue opposing parties, in accordance with the principles underlying the position that the ANPI of Rome has always held. That is, the pursuit of peace, respect, tolerance, against any kind of discrimination, racism, and solidarity with all the oppressed peoples who struggle for freedom.
Some time ago, the Washington Post published a widely read article by Israeli writer Assaf Gavron, titled: “Confessions of an Israeli Traitor.” Gavron described Israel as headed in a “downward swirl into a savage, irreparable society.” Should he also be considered anti-Semitic? If we consider that the Arabs are Semites, then this silly epithet proves the stupidity of those who use it. The criminal conduct of the state of Israel runs the risk, therefore, of extending their own faults onto all Jews, even those who denounce and fight Israeli state atrocities, as Gavron puts it.
Not just the ANPI, but every institution must then decide if they want to support the advocates of a wild and fascist society or support its victims, namely the Palestinians.
I hope the Chief Rabbi of Rome reflects on the words of the anti-Zionist Moni Ovadia (also Jewish): “Israel will be destroyed, not by Arabs, but by its own rulers.”