Italy's government proposed legislation on Thursday that would increase jail sentences for inciting or committing acts of anti-Semitism and racial discrimination, the Justice Ministry said. The bill also includes financing for an international education program on the Holocaust and creates a body to monitor anti-Semitism in Italy.
Passed unanimously by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government, the bill will now be brought before the Italian parliament for a final vote.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that according to the bill Holocaust deniers face a sentence of up to four years imprisonment.
The planned law will allow judges to hand down sentences of up to four years for inciting or committing acts of discrimination on grounds of racial, ethnic, gender or sexual orientation, the statement said.
If Rome passes such a bill Italy will join other EU nations with laws banning Holocaust denial such as Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium. Germany, the current EU leader, is pushing to criminalize acts of racist violence, including the Holocaust throughout the 27-nation EU.
Napolitano: Struggle against all kinds of racism
"No to anti-Semitism, even when it is disguised as anti-Zionism," said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in a Memorial Day speech before hundreds of students in Rome on Thursday. "Anti-Semitism means denying the base on which the Jewish country is built, the reason for its establishment, and its need for security even today, it has nothing to do with which government is currently leading Israel," Napolitano said.
"The tragedy of the Holocaust reminds us all of the importance of struggling against all kinds of racism and discrimination," he continued, "as Italians we must feel the weight of those dark years when there were fascist racist laws and the Jews were persecuted.
"As Chirac did in France, we too want to remind Italy of the light emanating from the actions of the just, of those who deserve this title due to their deeds, often while risking their own lives; acts of solidarity with their persecuted Jewish brethren who faced deportation, torture and the death camps."
AP contributed to the report