Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stressed his support for Israel and Jewish causes after sparking outrage by comparing his family to Jews under Hitler.
In an excerpt of a book to be released Friday, the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Berlusconi was quoted Wednesday as saying that, because of the long series of court cases against him, “my children say they feel like Jewish families must have felt during the Hitler regime. Truly everyone is against us.”
Berlusconi, 77, was convicted of tax fraud earlier this year after a long series of other charges and legal woes. Italian Jewish leaders reacted with shock and anger to the comparison. A photo montage made the rounds of Facebook showing a picture of his family alongside a picture of concentration camp inmates.
“The life of the Jews of Europe under Nazism was marked by a black vortex of violence, persecution and death,” Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement. ”Any comparison with the situation of the Berlusconi family is thus not only inappropriate and unacceptable but is also an offense against the memory of those who were deprived of any rights and, after atrocious and unspeakable suffering, their very lives.”
Nichi Vendola, a leader of the left-center opposition wrote on his Facebook page, “To trivialize a terrible tragedy like the Holocaust for everyday political polemics, as Berlusconi has, is chilling.”
Jewish Member of Parliament Emanuele Fiano, also a political opponent of Berlusconi, called the statement “an insult to history, to the six million Jews who were killed, and to those who try to impede history from being forgotten or manipulated.”
Berlusconi responded in a statement on the website of his Forza Italia party, calling the furor over his remarks: “A controversy blatantly instrumental, based on a phrase extrapolated from a broader context.”
He added, “My history, my friendship toward Israel, my consistent government action at the international level in favor of the State of Israel, do not allow any doubt about my awareness of the tragedy of the Holocaust and my respect for the Jewish people. “