Security boosted at Milan Jewish sites after stabbing

Italy boosted security at Jewish sites in Milan on Friday after an Israeli Jew was knifed in the city, police said.

Nathan Graff was stabbed in the back and face on Thursday evening by an unknown assailant near a Jewish school in Italy's financial capital, police said. They added that his wounds were not life threatening.

The attacker has not yet been caught and his motives are not known, but a judicial source said anti-terrorism prosecutors were investigating whether it was a hate crime.

Members of the Jewish community in Milan said Graff was wearing a kippa, or skullcap, at the time of the attack.

“Let us hope this was an isolated incident,” Milo Hasbani, co-president of the Jewish community in Milan, told reporters after meeting city officials to discuss the stabbing.

“We have never had problems in Milan. We are well integrated into the city and have no fear … We don't think this was a personal affair, there is nothing to suggest that.”

Police said they were looking at video from surveillance cameras in the area to try to identify the attacker. 

If it is confirmed as a hate attack, it would echo a spate of recent stabbings in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with Palestinians lashing out at Israelis in the worst wave of violence in the area since the 2014 Gaza war.

Stars of David ripped from Jewish tombstones in Milan

More than a dozen tombstones at the Jewish section of Milan's main cemetery were vandalized.

Vandals over the weekend tore off Stars of David decorating some 13 tombstones. Police in the northern Italian city are investigating.

The Milan Jewish community spokesman said it was too soon to tell whether anti-Semitism or “simple theft” was behind the vandalism. Thieves are known to steal metal decorative elements from cemeteries to melt down or sell as scrap.

Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia said he “forcefully condemned” the vandalism.

“For my part, I express solidarity to the families and to the entire Jewish community,” he said in a statement. “Every act of violence, every act of lack of respect, toward whatever religion or community, is a stain that must find the unanimous condemnation of the entire city.”

Milan’s Jews condemn meeting of right-wing movements

Milan’s Jewish community has condemned a meeting of European extreme right-wing movements due to be held at a Milan hotel Friday and Saturday.

In a statement, the Milan Jewish community expressed “alarm” at the meeting, which is to include representatives of Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the French Front National and Britain’s British National Party, among others.

They all form part of an alliance of “national” parties across Europe. Italy’s far-right movement, the Fiamma Tricolore (Tri-color Flame), is hosting the meeting.

“These organizations want to turn back the clock to the darkest period of European history,” the statement said. “The democratic institutions in the city must prevent it.”

It called on Italian authorities to see if there were provisions under Italy’s anti-racisim and anti-incitement laws to “cancel this worrying gathering, even at the last minute.”

The national “Italy-Israel Association” issued a similar statement, and the Jewish member of parliament from Milan, Emanuele Fiano, presented a note to the Interior Minister expressing concern that Milan would be the scene of a “meeting of European neo-fascist forces that, as always in history, try to take advantage of the difficult social situation to propagate their ideologies of hatred and death.”

Suspected plotter of attack on Milan synagogue is arrested

Police in northern Italy have arrested a Morocco-born man suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the Milan synagogue and other targets.

Mohamed Jarmoune, 20, who has lived in Italy since childhood, was arrested early Thursday in the province of Brescia, according to Italian news reports.

Investigators reportedly found a document on his computer analyzing the security measures of Milan’s main synagogue. He also is suspected of planning attacks and organizing terror groups through Internet social networking sites, including a super-secure group on Facebook that allowed members to exchange information on using arms and explosives.

Police said a 40-year-old woman who had been in contact with the arrested man also had been arrested in Britain.

Police counter-terrorism official Claudio Galzeano described Jarmoune as a “computer whiz” who was a “sort of radicalized hacker, outside the circuit of the mosques.” Galzeano said Jarmoune had “followed the road toward an ever more fundamentalist fanaticism” via the internet.

Roberto Jarach, the president of the Milan Jewish community, said the arrest came as a surprise.

“For about two months there had been a general increase in the level of attention, signaled by the forces of order, but there did not seem to be any specific elements of concern,” he told the media. Still, Jarach said, the case did not seem to be an isolated initiative or “the work of an isolated fanatic.”

Milan pro-Israel event to be held despite protests

A 10-day exhibition celebrating Israel will go ahead as planned in downtown Milan despite protests from pro-Palestinian activists.

Milan city authorities on Tuesday confirmed that the exhibition, called “Unexpected Israel,” will take place June 12-23 in the piazza outside Milan’s cathedral and will not be moved to another location for security reasons as had been suggested earlier in the week.

“Unexpected Israel,” to be mounted in a pavilion as part of a broader Tourism Week initiative, will include concerts, exhibits, readings, discussions and other activities showcasing Israeli creativity and innovation. 

Pro-Palestinian activists had launched a protest and Internet campaign against what they called “an Israeli occupation of Milan” and promised demonstrations against it, including a protest called for June 18.

Some 250 Milan Jewish intellectuals and cultural figures had written an open letter to the city urging the exhibition to take place as planned and not give in to extremists.

In a similar statement, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and the president of the Milan Jewish community said that “Civilization does not bow its head before threats but, on the contrary, reinforces its determination to demand from all respect for legality, for freedom and, in this case, respect for a country that is a friend of Italy, that is, Israel.”

Israeli designers works on display in Milan

An exhibition showcasing the work of 45 Israeli designers will be featured at the International Furniture Salon trade fair in Milan.

Called “Promisedesign 2011—New Design from Israel,” the exhibition, which runs through April 17, features more than 65 innovative design projects ranging from furniture to light fixtures to technological products to automobile parts.

Curators Vanni Pasca and Ely Rozenberg said the aim was to “present the multiple faces of design in Israel,” a reality they said had been dubbed “the best-kept secret in the world of design.”

After Milan, the exhibit will be shown in other European countries, including France. The curators said its display in June will mark the first time an Israeli design exhibit is shown in Paris.

Handwriting Is on the Wall in Italy

It’s midnight in Milan and we’re in a taxi racing through the streets to our hotel. We’ve just arrived from Los Angeles. We’re hazy and tired from a 24-hour trip that should have taken us 15 and from spending too many hours delayed in Heathrow Airport, with nothing to do but sit on our luggage.

Bleary eyed, we look out the window, watching Milan zip before us as our cabdriver navigates the curves and spokes of the city’s streets, which are all laid out in wagon wheels.

The streets are lined with trees and cars, mostly European-made Smart cars, the kind that look like they were guillotined on the assembly line into half a car before the foreman noticed. The buildings are pretty, wide fronted, about five-stories high, with curlicued plaster moldings and shutters framing the evenly spaced windows.

It all seems delightfully and authentically European until we look at the buildings at street level. From that vantage point they look like dreck. A confusing, messy, spray-painted mèlange of come-hither sex slogans, anarchy signs, people’s names, little drawings, indecipherable scribbles, political messages and four-letter words covers every single one.

The graffiti’s aesthetically offensive — Milan looks like a city that had its hem dragged through the mud — but moreover, a lot of it makes us uncomfortable, as equations like "Israel = Swastika," "Sharon = Nazi" or "Israel = Auschwitz" defile many of the buildings.

"It’s out of control," said Adeena, my friend and traveling companion, who works for Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, as she stares in disbelief at the sheer quantity of the graffiti. "This would not go down in District 5."

But Italy is not Los Angeles’ Fifth District, and we noticed when we were there that Italians are more uptight about making sure their espresso is strong and hot than they are about cleaning obscene language off 500-year-old buildings.

Graffiti has a long history in Italy. Rumor has it that Italian graffiti originated sometime during the Renaissance, when Michelangelo stood outside the Palazzo Della Signoria (the Lordship’s Palace) in Florence, that city’s municipal building, and while listening to a political debate, idly carved a drawing of a man’s face into the building’s wall. It remains there still. Unfortunately, Michelangelo’s genius inspired thousands of far-less-talented louts to use public property as their own personal canvases.

Graffiti followed us everywhere in Italy. We saw it on the outer walls of churches in Rome, on apartment buildings in Florence and shop doors in Venice. We were simultaneously stunned by the beautiful buildings painted in festive pinks, oranges and greens and appalled by the demotic scribbling, which, in all fairness to it, was utterly democratic in the way that it didn’t discriminate and defaced every building new and old.

We also found that Italians had an ambivalent attitude toward the graffiti. There was not — to our eyes — any move to get it off the buildings, and several people we spoke to actually welcomed its presence.

"It is not the most civil way of expressing yourself," said Maria, our friend in Florence, who in her own bedroom has a poster of graffiti from the 1968 French student riots that reads, "Plutôt La Vie" (we prefer life).

"But it is an outlet for people to express discomforts that otherwise would not be able to be brought to the attention of people," she said. "Freedom of expression here is largely impeded. The prime minister owns a large percentage of the publishing media, and the graffiti remains a means of expressing uncomfortable sentiments."

But even in the climate where the young and liberal like Maria view painted obscenities as the voice of the public, the blustery ignorance of the anti-Israel graffiti seems like the modernized, more politically correct version of Italian anti-Semitism.

Like the graffiti on the Milan buildings, anti-Semitism was an ugly blot on the magnificent culture and history of Italy. For hundreds of years, the authorities in Italy basically wanted to get rid of the Jews. They taxed them as heavily as possible, herded them into ghettos and did their best to get them to convert to Christianity.

For the most part, it didn’t work. Jews thrived in Italy. They were bankers and merchants, and they built huge synagogues with stained-glass walls, domed ceilings and filigreed paintwork, and they constructed palaces along the Venice canals.

Now, the Jewish community is small and scattered, and in some ways it is thriving and in others it is weak. Venice and Milan have yeshivas now, and there are kosher establishments in the major cities.

Although the synagogues are still there, there are more tourists than locals in many of the minyans, and the heyday of Jewish life in Italy has been largely distilled into a selection of tourist curios, like the fried artichokes — the culinary specialty of the Roman Ghetto — that you can eat in restaurants, or the menorahs made of Murano glass that you can buy in Venice stores.

Still, the official anti-Semitism is gone. Nobody is hollering about putting Italian Jews back in a ghetto and the Vatican has rescinded its anti-Jewish policies.

But that darned graffiti is a sniveling reminder that many of the attitudes haven’t changed all that much since Titus marched into Rome, proudly bearing the treasures of the Temple. It would be great if the Italians could start cleaning up that graffiti and, while they’re at it, finish cleaning up their attitudes.