October 29, 2020
Dear President Francesca Del Bello,
We recently learned that you have been the subject of an indefensible smear campaign over the district council’s sponsorship of the Falastin Festival in Rome.
We thank you for maintaining your sponsorship despite these attacks.
As a network of 11 Jewish groups throughout Europe, including Italy, we are very concerned about the growing attempts by the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups to weaponise antisemitism in order to shut down the debate over Israel’s racist policies and violations of Palestinian rights.
At a time when far-right forces are growing, and along with them racism and antisemitism, this deplorable and dangerous practice makes it even more difficult to fight real antisemitism and other racism. In trying to silence human rights defenders, Israel positions itself next to far-right figures and political parties, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Narendra Modi in India, and Donald Trump in the US.
We know that maintaining your decision could not have been easy. As Jews and Jewish groups that have criticized the undeclared apartheid that Israel imposes on the Palestinian people, we have faced the same harsh attacks. We want you to know you are not alone. Every day more and more people of conscience, public officials, artists, organisations and intellectuals are taking a stand to defend Palestinian rights and accountability measures to end Israel’s system of apartheid.
Advocating BDS was part of the Falastin Festival, and, of course, central to the pressure being applied to you. You will want to know that, in the past five years, there have been 14 court judgments in Europe and North America ruling that advocating BDS is protected by the right to free speech and is therefore legal. It is neither antisemitic nor an incitement to violence. The most recent and most important judgment was the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in June this year.
We also want to comment on the letter complaining about your decision written by Dr. Shimon Samuels, a Director of the Wiesenthal Centre, to Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte on 1st October
We are appalled by Dr. Samuels claim that “BDS (Boycot, Divestment, Sanctions) is a campaign to harm the State of Israel, inspired by the German Nazi 1930s violent programme ‘Kaufen Nicht bei Juden’ (Do Not Buy from the Jews!).”
This is an attempt to manipulate the Prime Minister by conflating justified protest against Israeli policy with Nazi antisemitism, and thereby with the holocaust. Sadly we are all too used to seeing this reprehensible strategy deployed by ultra pro-Israel organisations like the Wiesenthal Centre.
There is also a gross misrepresentation in his letter. He claimed that the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism “…describes the dangers of BDS…” In fact, it does not even mention BDS. Compared to the guilt manipulation of his claim that BDS is inspired by the Nazis, this is almost benign.
You took a stand in defense of the principles of human rights and international law, of equality and justice, and of solidarity between peoples. Just as you stood with us, we are here to stand with you. Please let us know if we can offer any more support.
We thank you again for having listened to the organisers of the festival and for standing strong in your decision.
Dror Feiler, Chair, EJJP, Judar för Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred, Stockholm
Arthur Goodman, Parliamentary and Diplomatic Liaison Officer, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London