Italian right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday unveiled a plaque for 35 Jewish journalists who were persecuted under Italy’s fascist-era racial laws, and pledged to fight “every kind of discrimination and antisemitism,” Reuters reported Wednesday. The journalists she honored were barred from working under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Meloni, 45, the first Italian woman prime minister, has served since October 22, 2022, as a right-wing nationalist. Her political positions have been described as far right, which she rejects. Meloni is on the record as praising Mussolini when she was 19. In 2020, when she was 43, she praised Giorgio Almirante, a civil minister in Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic who produced racist propaganda and co-founded the MSI, a neo-fascist political party in Italy.
But Meloni has condemned both the suppression of democracy and the introduction of the Italian racial laws by the fascist regime.
In October, as she was taking the reins of government, Meloni told Parliament she “never felt any sympathy for regimes, fascism included,” and that Italy’s antisemitic racial laws of 1938 had been “the lowest point of Italian history, a shame that will taint our people forever.”
She repeated the same text on Tuesday during the ceremony in Rome at the headquarters of the association of journalists.
“We have not yet won the fight against discrimination and antisemitism,” she said, but stressed that her government is “ready, focused to do its part to fight every kind of discrimination and anti-Semitism that threatens to be present among us.”
According to Yad Vashem, Mussolini was not strongly antisemitic. He had close ties to Italian Jews, including several early founders and members of the Fascist movement. He was also strongly affected by two Jewish women: Angelica Balabanoff, a Russian, and Margherita Sarfatti, an Italian. After Mussolini rose to power, he reassured Italian Jewry of their safety in an interview with the Chief Rabbi of Rome. From 1922 to 1936, Mussolini summed up his policy toward Italian Jews with the statement: “The Jewish problem does not exist in Italy.”
However, off the record, Mussolini verbally attacked Jews and Zionism. During Italy’s war in Ethiopia in 1935-1936, Mussolini blamed “international Jewry” for his troubles. When Germany and Italy became allies in 1936, Mussolini forged a new “Jewish policy.” He tried to force Italian Jews to join his Fascist party; then, in 1938, he issued racial laws to remove Jews from public life in Italy. But he refused to implement the Germans’ brutal anti-Jewish measures and sheltered Jews in areas of Europe that were controlled by Italy. Hence the “not strongly antisemitic” note from Yad Vashem.
Until 1943, Hitler allowed Mussolini to shape Italy’s separate racial policy, but in September 1943, after Mussolini’s Fascist Grand Council decided to seek peace with the Allies and imprisoned Mussolini, Hitler invaded Italy, rescued Mussolini, and made him the head of a puppet government in German-occupied Italy. Heinrich Himmler was sent to implement the “final solution” in those areas.