Italian deputy premier says his countrymen must accept historic responsibility for crimes of Mussolini
JERUSALEM, Sept. 12 — Italians must accept historic responsibility for the deportation of the Jews to Nazi concentration camps and other crimes of Benito Mussolini's dictatorship, Italy's formerly neo-fascist deputy prime minister said in an interview published Thursday.
Gianfranco Fini told the Israeli daily Haaretz that he and his National Alliance have abandoned all fascist and racist ideology, and offered his support for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.
''Indeed, as an Italian I must accept responsibility. In the name of the Italians I have to do that,'' he said. ''The Italians bear responsibility for what happened after 1938, from the enactment of the race laws.''
In Rome, an Italian Jewish leader Tullia Zevi said Fini is not in a position to speak for Italians. ''There were also Italians ... who ... decided to oppose fascism and chose to join the resistance and fight,'' and therefore it was unfair of Fini to lump all Italians together, she said.
In 1938, Mussolini promulgated the first anti-Semitic laws and intensified them in the 1940s. The laws expelled Jews from government and university jobs and the military, and restricted their work, schooling and right to own property. In addition, almost 7,000 Jews were deported from Italy during World War II, 5,910 of whom were killed.
However, Italian public opinion was generally against the deportations and many Jews were hidden, some by Catholic priests, at great risk to their own lives.
Ten years ago, to mark the anniversary of Mussolini's famous 1922 march on Rome, Fini led a march of 50,000 of his followers, making the fascist salute and chanting ''Duce! Duce!''
Since then, however, Fini said the party has made a complete commitment to democracy and recognized the harm that Mussolini had done. He said he and his party are now neither extreme right nor neo-fascists. ''I do not accept the definition 'post-fascist' either,'' he told the newspaper.
In the newspaper interview, Fini expressed support for Israel and sharply criticized Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
''I am convinced that today, and especially after the 11th of September, the security of Israel is the security of the West and the security of the democratic peoples,'' he said.
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