NEWS Italy and the Figures of Prejudice

cdecBy Adam Smulevich

Despite the consolidation of the signs of recovery, the current sentiment of the country remains fundamentally negative and retreating: external problems (the unresolved economic crisis, immigration, criminality and corruption) are the main factors causing this widespread sentiment. The basic request therefore remains that of “being defended”, not only from an economic-social point of view, even if it is central, but also from an identity crisis whose role is becoming more and more obvious. That has been brought out during the presentation of the survey “Stereotypes and prejudices of the Italians” strongly supported by the Fondazione CDEC (Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre) in Milan in collaboration with the market research company IPSOS.

Carried out as part of a project on the history of anti-Semitism coordinated by the State University of Milan, with the participation of La Sapienza University of Rome, Genoa University and Pisa, the research (presented this morning at the Jewish Centre Il Pitigliani) has been compared with a previous survey conducted in 2007. Of great interest and topicality are the ideas emerging on the subject of prejudice (anti-Jewish, but not only); The prelude to further in-depth analysis will be carried out in the coming months, as underlined in their speeches by both the CDEC editor Luzzatto Voghera and sociologist Betti Guetta, responsible for the foundation’s anti-Semitism Observatory.

The objective, confirmed by both, is that this survey could become a starting point for periodic monitoring to build a sort of “intolerance barometer” in their company, to illustrate data and perspectives of the analysis, for which several months of work have been taken by the president of IPSOS Nando Pagnoncelli, Senator Luigi Manconi and the editor of the Italian Jewish newspaper Pagine Ebraiche Guido Vitale. The presentation began with greetings from the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni and the President of the Roman Jewish Community Ruth Dureghello, during the course of the day, various guests reflected on a few words of the representative Milena Santerini on the commitment of the Italian and European institutions in the fight against hate.

“It is necessary that authorities at all levels act counter to the various masks of anti-Semitism. It is necessary for the Muslim world to defend itself from those who do not allow it to mature and integrate. It is necessary for the population to wake up.”, said President Di Segni’s appeal.
Editor in chief Vitale invited to open the eyes in that vast world that moves with controversial and ambivalent messages as in the case of the German extreme right.
“The extreme right-wing populist and populist movements who assert that Jews have nothing to fear are a serious threat”, so he said, “and this is because even in the absence of a growing number of criminal episodes against the Jewish minority, they try to separate the Jewish world from their values, often with the complicity of individuals or related institutions who act irresponsibly or deceive themselves to circumscribe the Jewish problem to defend their particular interests”.

It is stated in the report accompanying the survey, whose main data have been illustrated today in the first instance by Pagnoncelli: “It was likely that in the end the inability to tell how to solve some issues of vital importance for the people who live their lives, would result in anger, resentment, racism, conspiracy and fascist regurgitation. In this context of ‘social landslide’ what remains stable is stereotyped thought, prejudice. A constant in quantitative terms. The extraordinary thing for now at least (hopefully things don’t get worse) is that the image of the Jews, the commonplaces, the stereotypes have not grown but are stable.”

Increased intolerance towards immigrants, xenophobia, right-wing thinking is growing and, as has been observed, according to expectations, anti-Semitism should also have made a leap forward. Ten years after the first study, however, the data remained almost unchanged. A stability that confirms that the Jews represent in the collective imagination something constant, which, it has been pointed out, “disregards the episodes of actuality, politics and economics”.

As the research shows, the knowledge of Jews is generally rather poor. Only a few of the interviewees correctly indicate the number of Jews present in Italy, while the absolute majority could not even give rough figures and many (36%) overestimate their presence. The Jews are mostly perceived as a cohesive community of solidarity within themselves, capable of doing business according to a historical stereotype. So much so that the first characterization, explains the research, “is given by the conviction that they are able to maneuver world finance for their own benefit”.

As far as basic attitudes towards Jews are concerned, the prevailing group appears, due to the lack of general information, to be neutral (41% today, 43% 10 years ago). That is to say, those who do not take a position on most of the assertions tested are the most distant from politics, a little more resident in the South of the country, tend to be younger than the average population.
There are therefore two groups of specular and similar consistency: first of all that of those who have no prejudices (15% today, 13% in 2007), that is, who do not adhere to any or almost any of the stereotypes tested. They are young people, with a high level of schooling, more present in the North East, left-wing and non-believers, satisfied with the openness towards immigrants.

At the other extreme, the anti-Semitic group (11% today, 12% ten years ago), which adheres to all or almost all of the stereotypes tested. The anti-Semitic people – the report says – are characterized by being more men, with low education, more present in the South, right-wing, with a high hostility towards immigrants “.

Finally, there is the group of ambivalent, i. e. respondents who adhere only to some of the stereotypes. A total of 33% of Italians (32% in 2007) are divided into three groups of about 10% each: the contemporaries, who believe that Jews exploit their history to justify Israel’s policy, thus transforming themselves from victims into aggressors. Most of them are left-wing people with good schooling, mostly living in the North.

Consequently, the classic stereotypes that say that the Jews are deceitful people, not reliable, not integrated among the Italians. This group is characterized by people of higher age, “middle-left and with a constant presence of practicing Catholics”. And finally, the modern ambivalent that sees the Jews as a group with a powerful political and economic power that is faithful to Israel, not Italy. The middle-aged/high-age respondents – explains the research – tend to place themselves more in the middle of the political line, occasionally Catholics who are located a little more in the central-northern, so-called “red regions”. Most (46%) of interviewees also believe that Italians have an anti-Semitic vein caused by a mixture of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish attitudes. As far as the specific situation in Israel is concerned, the relative majority here too does not express itself.

About 30%, on the other hand, requires a harder attitude of the international community towards Israel “because of its behaviour towards the Palestinians” and because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is perceived as one of the causes of international terrorism”. But on the other hand, Israel is also thought to be a state that seeks peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. And the absolute majority believes that it is the task of both states to resolve the conflict.

Research is becoming more open focusing on immigration, the big topic of today. The collected data show that there are two numerically equivalent opposing groups: the group of people saying that migrants should all be accepted, those fleeing from hunger and those fleeing from war (25.4%) and in contrast the group of people saying that Italy should turn away all of them because the country is not capable of accepting any more (24%). In the middle, the majority of people (44.4%) consider it necessary to accept only political refugees. Moreover, many people think that there are too many immigrants in Italy and that immigration has put public services and the job market under severe strain. But about one quarter of the respondents take a positive view: the immigration is good for the economy and contributes to the de-provincialization of the country. Multiculturalism in general, however, does not convince. Indeed, many respondents express the need for reassurance: most people (54%) share the opinion that minority cultures must adapt to the majority culture. Migration from Islamic countries is considered to be a threat to the West by 60.8% of the respondents, while Islam appears to be a religion that is too traditional and incapable of adapting to the modern age in the opinion of 65.5%.

However, 44.7% think that Muslims should have the right to build their mosques in Italy, (this opinion is not shared by 31.8%) and this fact, how you can read, “underlines a subtle tolerance.”
Regarding the Shoah, most of the respondents (52.9%) think that it is was a great tragedy like other ones that are less talked about, while about one third think that the Shoah was the greatest tragedy of humanity (34.6%). The rest is divided in people saying that they don’t know what it is (9%) and others denying it (3.5%).

*Translation made by Milena Porsch, student at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, and Clara Ehret, student at Regensburg University. Both are interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.