Vatican chides Berlusconi for 'Jewish jokes'

05 October 2010

The Vatican's official newspaper, the ‘Osservatore Romano’, has deplored jokes by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi about Jews, saying they offended "the sentiments of believers and the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah". Days after Berlusconi told a youth rally an apparent joke about Adolf Hitler, he emerged from his Rome residence on 29 September to tell the following joke: ”A Jew hides a fellow Jew in his basement at the time of the concentration camps, and he charges him € 3,000 a day [US$ 4,000]. The Jew paid up because he had the money but do you think he should tell him that Hitler has died and the war is over?”

The joke was filmed and posted on the website of the ‘Repubblica’ newspaper. In the same footage, Berlusconi is heard saying that he “collects a story and a girl a day.” In a statement, Berlusconi said his jokes had been made in private and were "neither an offense nor a sin, but merely a laugh." He added: "The bad taste and the responsibility are on the part of whoever publicizes them.”

The day after Berlusconi cracked his Jewish joke, a senator in the governing Freedom People party, was also accused of anti-Semitism. In a speech to the Senate, Giuseppe Ciarrapico, 76, called Gianfranco Fini, the politician who has split ranks with Berlusconi, a traitor. "Has Fini's grouping already ordered the kippah?” Ciarrapico asked, referring to the Jewish skullcap. "He who has betrayed once always betrays," he added, apparently referring to Fini's decision to break with his neo-fascist political past and visit Israel to denounce Nazism in 2003.

Emanuele Fiano, an MP with the opposition Democratic Party, called Ciarrapico's statement "shameful". He said: "It is a few decades since we heard something like this in parliament. He spoke  of the skull cap as if it were dishonorable."

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