Rivlin reaches out to Holocaust survivor following antisemitic threats

“Your personal mission, your strength and your bravery are a role model for us in Israel and for Jewish communities around the world," Rivlin wrote.

Italian Holocaust survivor and senator for life Liliana Segre (photo credit: DANIEL REICHEL/PAGINE EBRAICHE)
Italian Holocaust survivor and senator for life Liliana Segre
President Reuven Rivlin wrote an impassioned letter of solidarity to Italian Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre following her speech in front of the Italian parliament earlier last week, advocating for change and bringing to light the everyday antisemitic threats the Italian life senator gets on an almost regular basis.
“Your personal mission, your strength and your bravery are a role model for us in Israel and for Jewish communities around the world,” Rivlin wrote.
Born into a Jewish family in 1930 in Milan, Segre was expelled from public school in September 1938 after fascist dictator Benito Mussolini passed anti-Jewish laws in the country.
In January 1944, she was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 13, after she and her father had been sent back to Italy by Swiss guards who patrolled the border to prevent hunted Jews from finding refuge in the neutral and Nazi-free country.
Italian Republic President Sergio Mattarella appointed her senator for life ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2018.
A life-tenure appointment in the Senate can be granted by the president to recognize “outstanding patriotic merits in the social, scientific, artistic or literary field.”
Since she took the position, Segre has become one of the most well-known and appreciated public figures in Italy, working tirelessly to promote not only Holocaust remembrance, but also a message of tolerance and solidarity.
Segre gave an impassioned speech warning against hatred in public discourse and urged a more humane and open society ahead of the vote on the new country’s government on Tuesday, a day that also marked Segre’s 89th birthday.
“I was appalled to hear the news that antisemitic threats against you require you to receive protection to ensure your safety, and deeply regret that the circumstances of me writing to you are so distressing,” Rivlin continued. “Your personal mission, your strength and your bravery are a role model for us in Israel and for Jewish communities around the world.”
“No words can adequately express my horror and disgust that you should be exposed to such criminal behavior,” he said. “As Holocaust survivor, you have seen the terrible and tragic consequences of antisemitism if not stopped; as a life senator of the Italian Republic, you have been recognized ‘for outstanding patriotic merits’; as a campaigner for justice and against racism and antisemitism, you work tirelessly for a better world.”
Addressing the Italian Parliament’s highest chamber, the senator announced that she would vote in favor of the unprecedented coalition formed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and the center-left Democratic Party “with some concerns but also with hopes.”
A month-long political crisis in Rome officially came to an end on Tuesday, with the new government receiving a green light.
Her speech before the Senate vote was no exception.
SEGRE HARSHLY criticized the previous coalition made up by the Five Star Movement and the right-wing nationalist party League.
“I have been worrying about our society,” said the senator, remarking how too often, recent episodes of racism have been downplayed and handled with sympathy.
Segre also warned against the misuse of religion in the public sphere, which in the past months raised controversies around the League’s leader and former minister of interior Matteo Salvini, who often waved iconic Catholic symbols such as the Virgin Mary and the rosary in its political rallies and speeches.
“It made me think of a farcical and dangerous revival of the ‘Gott mit uns,’” Segre said, alluding to the motto “God is with us,” that was featured on Nazi uniforms.
As she spoke, some boos could be heard in the senate hall.
“Your case, unfortunately, is yet another terrible example of the reality for Jews in Europe today, but I believe that the most appropriate response is to carry on doing what you believe in,” Rivlin concluded in his letter. “Equality, human rights, accepting the other and tolerance are key to Judaism and universal human values. They are the foundations on which our lives are based, and without them, we are lesser people. It would be a great honor, personally and for the State of Israel, to welcome you to Jerusalem and to visit Israel.”
Segre also censured politicians stirring up hatred in their followers.
“I personally experienced how easy it is to move from words of hatred to acts of hatred,” she emphasized.
“I was taught that whoever saves a life saves the whole world,” she concluded, quoting a famous Jewish saying that originates in the Talmud. “For this reason, a world where those who save lives are punished instead of honored sounds upside-down to me.”
She was referring to legislation Italy passed earlier this year that says the Interior Ministry can prevent ships carrying migrants and asylum seekers to transit or stop in the country’s territorial waters, with harsh sanctions for those who transgress, including NGOs’ ships and personnel that patrol the Mediterranean to save people on the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe.
When Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took the floor before the vote, before starting to unfold his political considerations, he congratulated Segre on her birthday, and vowed to back her legislative initiative to fight hate speech. Segre introduced a bill aimed to establish a parliamentary committee for this purpose in fall 2018.
“I believe that we can all agree that [the senator’s] testimony on one of the darkest pages of the 20th century is still invaluable for all of us,” Conte said.
Rosella Tercatin contributed to this report.