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Fighting antisemitism Italy has a plan, and it starts in schools

A new tool, rich in ideas and substance, to help teachers “to face the old and new prejudices that weaken coexistence at school and in society”. This is the purpose of the Guidelines on the fight against antisemitism in schools presented last week with the presence and participation of the Italian Minister of Public Education Patrizio Bianchi who strongly wanted this project. “I am grateful to the minister for his sensitivity, on these issues the harmony has been great”, said to Pagine Ebraiche Milena Santerini, national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. “It is also significant that the new phase of the strategy presented to the government in recent months started from the school: the area where future is most thought about and built”.
This theme was developed also in the speeches by the President of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni, the head of the Department for the education and training system Stefano Versari, the director of ODIHR Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – OSCE Matteo Mecacci, the head of the Italian delegation to IHRA Luigi Maccotta, Melissa Sonnino of CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe and of the director of the Directorate for Students, Inclusion and School Guidance Antimo Ponticiello.
Elaborated with the contribution of a group of experts, the guidelines open with a reference to the operational definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and with an overview of the different forms of contemporary antisemitism from traditional anti-Judaism to neo-Nazi and neo-fascist hatred, from Holocaust denial to hostile feelings towards the existence of the State of Israel.
Also under the lens are prejudices in the economic and financial sphere and hatred of Jews “as such”. These are necessary premises to deal with proper education in the classroom (“conscious and unconscious prejudices”, “conspiracy theories and conspiratorial mentality”, “trivialization and distortion of the Shoah”). Specific indications are therefore provided for “study topics” and “didactic aspects”.
The creation of study paths that make Jewish culture and history known in their entirety is hoped for. Generally neglected, it is pointed out, is “the social and cultural contribution given over time by Jews in Europe, their living conditions, the presence and intertwining of populations in the various regions of Italy”. Preoccupation is expressed about the spread, also among young people, of “the language or images associated with the Shoah out of derision or ‘black humor’, the association between victims and losers (in sport and life), and the comparison between the treatment used by the Nazis towards Jews to infinitely different contemporary events”.
The guidelines’ beacon is clear: the fight against antisemitism concerns the community as a whole, without any exception. Therefore, avoiding the action is not possible. “Due to its historical, political, religious, and cultural specificities for other forms of discrimination, and for that unicum that is the Shoah, it represents an essential challenge in the general interest”, emphasizes Professor Santerini in her introductory text. It is a challenge to be faced by involving “all members of the school community: pupils and students, teachers, families, staff, and managers”.
Minister Bianchi agreed: “There is a strong need to take up the challenge of memory and knowledge of the Holocaust”. In this perspective, he added, the guidelines are candidates to be “an important step for a common commitment, a new teaching tool aimed above all at the world of teachers and students”. It is an initiative born and developed with the aim of “cultivating young people awareness so that on the theme of antisemitism the whole society would assimilate the values that the Holocaust invites us not to forget: peace, equality of all human beings, and respect for the dignity of persons and the values of civil coexistence”.

Above, national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism Milena Santerini.