In a post on his Facebook page, Luigi Tuccio, a municipal councilman in Reggio Calabria, wrote that Mr. Benigni was a “communist billionaire Jew.” The councilman reportedly posted the comment in reaction to a TV show that included an act by Benigni.
While he at first defended his remark, Tuccio subsequently apologized after his words were widely condemned in Italy.
In a letter to Tuccio, ADL said the comment was outrageous, particularly in light of Mr. Benigni’s memorable role in the 1998 film “Life is Beautiful,” which used humor and pathos to tell the story of an ordinary Italian Jew and his family sent to a Nazi death camp.
“Your use of ‘Jew’ in a derogatory manner betrays an anti-Semitic attitude, the most ancient and persistent of prejudices,” wrote ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and a personal friend of Benigni.
“We hope the widespread condemnation of your remarks we have seen in Italy will serve as a call for introspection and reconsideration of both your beliefs and your words.”
Foxman continued, “Roberto Benigni’s magnificent performance in the film “Life is Beautiful” led to its worldwide success. As a result, he has done more for Holocaust education than all but a handful of people in our generation. He is a man to be celebrated, not insulted.”