ROME – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is known as a man who is not afraid of allowing his tongue to speak freely. In keeping with this reputation, the 74-year-old statesman decided to share a joke about Jews in the Holocaust during his birthday party at his private residence.
At the end of the festivities, he told a handful of young supporters a joke. "A Jew approached a family member to confess to hiding another Jew during the Holocaust," said Berlusconi. "'Great!' said the family member, as the former said that he feels uncomfortable that he forced the hidden Jew to pay him money for each day in hiding. After receiving recognition for helping save the life of a Jew, he asked, 'If that's the case, do you think I can tell him that Hitler died and the war is over?'"
To the laughter of his young followers, Berlusconi said, "It's a good joke, right?"
This is not the first time that Berlusconi resorts to Holocaust jokes. Just three weeks ago, he told another joke at a conference in Rome.
Over the weekend, the Holy See disapproved of Berlusconi's questionable taste in humor. The Vatican's newspaper leveled harsh criticism at the prime minister. "These are distressing jokes that offend the sensibilities of the believers and the memories of the six million victims of the Holocaust," the newspaper wrote.
Jewish community keeps mumHowever, while the Vatican denounced the jokes, the Jewish community in Italy is keeping mum. The apparent reason is that the community preferred instead to respond to an anti-Semitic remark made in the Italian senate.
During a debate held in Italy's Upper House on Thursday, one of the senators addressed the removal of the chairman of the Lower House from the ranks of the ruling party. "He founded a new party. Let's hope that he has already ordered the yarmulkes for them to wear. Because this is what is going on – he who cheats once will cheat again."
The senate's vice president who presided over the debate did not think it necessary to call for order. Neither did the Italian prime minister think the statement was problematic.
Italian Union of Jewish Communities Renzo Gattegna criticized the senators and the prime minister for remaining apathetic to the comment.
"The Jews of Italy felt angry and embittered," Gattegna wrote in an official statement. "Not one of those present had the sensitivity, the intelligence, and the willingness to take action as would be obligated to do to maintain the honor of the senate."
Gattegna concluded by asking the senate president and the prime minister to take disciplinary measures against the senator.
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