Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

The cost of diverting police and related resources:

Organised crime increasingly being forgotten in favour of anti-migrant efforts, say observers

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

On Sunday, Salvini announced the interior ministry would review spending on police protection for men and women under threat from the mafia, declaring “some people have been under police escort for too long”.

In Catania, the eastern Sicilian stronghold of the powerful Santapaola clan, prosecutors are investigating NGO rescue boats, one of which was ordered to be seized in November after fears that discarded clothes worn by people arriving from Libya could have been contaminated with HIV.

In Riace, part of Reggio Calabria, from where the feared ‘Ndrangheta is thought to control much of Europe’s cocaine trade, Mimmo Lucano, an anti-mafia mayor who revitalised his community by welcoming asylum seekers, has been under investigation since October on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration. Lucano has had repeated death threats from mafiosi, who also poisoned two of his dogs.

In the past eight months, nearly 250 of Salvini’s tweets have addressed immigration, compared with 60 about organised crime.

Nicola Gratteri, one of Italy’s most respected anti-mafia prosecutors, said: “I’ve heard him [Salvini] talking about immigration a lot. Haven’t heard him talking about the mafia yet.” When Salvini has tweeted about organised crime, for example the arrests in December of 90 people in Europe and South America accused of links to the ‘Ndrangheta, it has often concerned investigations that began before his tenure.

Arrivals to Italy have decreased by more than 80% since their peak. Thousands of police officers have conducted searches and inspections, and hundreds of people have been forcibly removed from welcome centres. Many of them are now homeless.

The evictions followed the approval of the “Salvini decree”, which removed humanitarian protections for those not eligible for refugee status and suspended the asylum application process for individuals considered “socially dangerous”.

Claudio Fava, the head of Sicily’s anti-mafia commission, whose father was murdered by the mafia in 1984, said: “The new security decree is a mirror of Salvini’s propaganda.

“The law addresses almost exclusively immigration, but a security decree should also be concerned with the mafia, which is clearly not a priority for Salvini. The only element in the decree that mentions the mafia regards the seizure of property.”

The Salvini decree established that villas confiscated from mafiosi would be auctioned off publicly after a certain time. Experts have questioned this, citing the likelihood that properties could be purchased by citizens acting as stand-ins for mafia bosses.

It feels as though the Italian mafias no longer make headlines, but others do. The interior ministry has carried out a ferocious campaign against what Salvini has described as a worse menace – the mysterious Nigerian mafia. In recent months, magistrates have arrested numerous individuals within the Nigerian community on suspicion of belonging to mafia clans.

Many investigators point out the Nigerian clans are subordinate to the Italian mafias, but Salvini and his supporters have been swift in justifying anti-immigration policies in the face of what they describe as an “invasion” of alleged African mafia bosses, which has risked aggravating racial prejudice.

The linking of migrant communities and organised crime has echoes of the past in Italy. Between 1880 and 1915, 4 million Italians reached the US, a small minority of whom were tied to the mafia, the largest criminal organisation in the world.

Mario Del Pero, a professor of international history at Sciences Po, said: “The anti-Italian prejudice, or rather ‘Italophobia’, was very strong in the United States. Its origins ranged from widespread hostility against the Catholic church to labelling Italians as criminals. Restrictive laws passed in 1921 and 1924 were written precisely to keep Italians out.”

In Caserta, the parallels are not lost. Moses, 34, who is from Nigeria and had his home searched by police, said: “[It is] the same sort of prejudice that migrants are facing in Italy more than 100 years later. History repeats itself, in this country more than anywhere else.”

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

Source: Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

Netanyahu’s Negotiating With Neo-Fascists for a ‘Consensus View’ of the Holocaust

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen an improbable way of celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding: He’s palling around with neo-fascists and coddling Holocaust revisionists.

The year 2018 has seen Netanyahu embracing a parade of such leaders and, in a no less perplexing twist, we’ve had the Jewish state blatantly dismissing the needs of Diaspora Jews as they face mounting antisemitism and insecurity in Western countries roiled by social unrest.

Consider the past week.

On Thursday, Netanyahu acknowledged that he is negotiating with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for an acceptable “consensus narrative” in which the Hungarian state’s part in the Nazi crimes that wiped out half a million Hungarian Jews during World War II will be minimized, if not erased, in a new revisionist Holocaust museum to be opened in Budapest.

On Tuesday Netanyahu was welcoming Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new, nationalist interior minister to Jerusalem.

Salvini, you guessed it, is a close European ally of Orbán. He acceded to his post last summer and has become Western Europe’s de facto leader of the populist anti-immigration movement since.

Italian Jews are not thrilled by the visit. A statement written by philosopher and painter Stefano Levi Della Torre and circulated among Italian Jewish communities says it is “alarming that Netanyahu is about to provide Salvini with a pro-Israel license [that would] exonerate him from the suspicions of anti-Semitism while he carries on with his xenophobic, racist campaign and with his alliances with anti-Semitic forces in Italy and Europe.”

A few hours ahead of his arrival, an irritated Salvini told Israel’s Foreign Press Association that “the growing anti-Semitism goes together with Islamic extremism, to which no one is paying attention.” Thus letting old-fashioned European fascist anti-Semitism off the hook. Salvini added, “I don’t have to justify myself every time I go to Israel.”

Protests were planned for Salvini’s visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who opposes Netanyahu’s cozy rapport with neo-fascists, announced he would not be receiving Salvini.

If you scratch beneath the surface of Netanyahu’s new friendships, the picture becomes clear: Like Britain’s UKIP and possibly like U.S. President Donald Trump, Netanyahu hopes to destabilize what has come to be known as “the international order.”

One way he is trying to do this is by encouraging European nations to break EU ranks and move their embassies to Jerusalem, as Trump has. Last month, Netanyahu welcomed Czech President Milos Zeman to Israel and accompanied him as Zeman opened a “Czech House” in the Israeli capital.

Jerusalem is burbling with rumors that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who visited Israel in October and hopes to defeat Israel’s boycott of his Freedom Party ministers who represent a onetime neo-Nazi movement, may move his embassy to Jerusalem.

In September, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was embraced by Netanyahu, even though he is a self-professed fan of Adolf Hitler who said he’d “be happy” to emulate Hitler by exterminating 3 million drug users and vendors.

Netanyahu recently announced his plans to attend the inauguration of Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, another figure on the nationalist far right who is dangling the possibility of moving his embassy to Jerusalem as an enticement for Netanyahu.

President Rivlin, who has become more vocal on the subject, told CNN last weekthat “you can’t say we admire the State of Israel and want ties with it, but we’re neo-fascists.”

In July it was Orbán’s turn for a whirl around Jerusalem, and that is when they may have discussed plans for the House of Fates, an institution intended to instill in the public a revisionist interpretation of Holocaust history, a “consensus narrative” in which the murder of more than half a million Hungarian Jews, enabled by the Nazi-allied government of Miklós Horthy, will be reconfigured.

The Israeli foreign ministry holds that any new Holocaust museum should stick to the historical record “as it is depicted in Yad Vashem and in Washington’s Holocaust Museum,” but was overruled by Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, and its representatives were shut out of talks between Orbán and Netanyahu officials last week in Jerusalem.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, and the son of a Holocaust survivor, described Netanyahu’s action as “appalling.”

Netanyahu’s agreement “to Hungary’s attempt to eliminate its part in the Holocaust is appalling,” he tweeted. “The Hungarians were deeply involved in the destruction of Hungarian Jewry as part of the murder machine. The only response to Orbán’s is that the museum should reflect the truth and nothing else. No negotiations, no consensus, just truth.”

Orbán has appointed Maria Schmidt, an historian and the leader of a movement to rewrite the Holocaust, to lead the House of Fates. Schmidt first made her name whitewashing history as the founder of Budapest’s House of Terror, a pseudo-museum advancing the theory that the suffering of eastern European nations who fell into the Soviet sphere of influence after WWII was worse than the suffering inflicted by the Nazi régime in Germany.

Schmidt, one of Orbán’s closest associates, was most recently associated with an overt act of political antisemitism Orbán has refused to condemn: last week’s cover of Figyelő, the “conservative Christian” business magazine owned by Schmidt, showed the face of Hungarian Jewish community president András Heisler surrounded by banknotes.

An Orbán spokesperson told World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder that any comment would “be contrary to freedom of the press.”

The Netanyahu high-wire act on Holocaust revisionism has reached an apex just as the European Union is grappling with a frightening upswing in European antisemitism.

On Thursday, rejecting several points Netanyahu had advanced, the EU adopted a new working definition of antisemitism.

Some EU states fear that the definition issued by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that has been adopted by over 20 countries and that Israel pushed for, could stifle criticism of Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The IHRA states that some criticism of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic, including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, or by applying double standards to Israel not imposed upon other nations.”

The EU chose to use the IHRA definition merely as a “guidance tool.”

A second EU survey published Monday reported that an astonishing nine out of 10 European Jews believe anti-Semitism has worsened in their countries over the past five years and more than one third are considering emigration.

The report prepared by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) was based on a poll of 16,000 respondents in 12 member states.

Almost 30 percent of the respondents said they had experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment in the past year, and 2 percent reported having been physically attacked, with a further 2 percent saying their property had been deliberately vandalized in the past year because they were Jewish.

In October, following the deadly attack against the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer said that whereas “Netanyahu wants the right to speak as the representative of all Jews, in America and Europe he’s abandoned all pretense of solidarity with them.”

In 2015, upon returning to Israel from a memorial ceremony for French Jews murdered in a terror attack, Netanyahu said, “I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”

In fact, Pfeffer notes, “the elected leader of a country in which less than half the Jews of the world live (and only a quarter of them actually voted for him in the last election) wants the right to address the world as the representative of all Jews. And he won’t even check with them first.”

Source: Netanyahu’s Negotiating With Neo-Fascists for a ‘Consensus View’ of the Holocaust

Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration

Noteworthy:

Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region who has long preached against racism and in support of migrants, knows what it is like to clash with Matteo Salvini, the recently installed interior minister and leader of the far-right League party.

In response to the party’s xenophobic rhetoric in 2015 – the year more than a million migrants arrived in Europe and 150,000 landed on Italy’s southern shores – he put a sign up on the door of his church in San Martino di Trignano, a hamlet of the town of Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!”

He immediately bore the wrath of Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

Fr Formenton is also believed to have been the target of intimidation by far-right sympathisers when his rectory and home were ransacked a few days after Luca Traini, a failed League candidate in a local ballot, injured six Africans in a shooting in the town of Macerata in early February.

As the Democratic party, the biggest left-wing force in Italy, appears cowed in the face of Salvini’s vitriolic immigration stance, fearing it will lose support, the interior minister’s strongest opponents are priests such as Formenton.

But they are struggling to convince parishioners to welcome migrants, amid mounting adulation of Salvini, a Catholic who reportedly attends mass.

“We have a population that wants blessings from the church, processions and religious rites, but every time Pope Francis recalls migrants or the poor, they no longer listen,” Formenton told the Guardian.

“There is an evil force of racism, and Salvini has contributed to this. He’s been a magician in cultivating hate and manipulating anger. People of all ages have become racist because of the climate we’re living in.”

Knowing that many of his backers are devout Catholics, Salvini has exploited religion to galvanise support. The 45-year-old once again brandished a rosary and swore on the gospel to be “loyal to his people” while addressing thousands of ecstatic voters at the League’s annual rally in Pontida, a town in the northern Lombardy region, last Sunday. His speech, during which he pledged to create a European-wide alliance against “mass immigration”, came a few days after Mario Delpini, the Archbishop of Milan, pleaded for more humanity among Christians.

“Can they go to mass each Sunday and ignore the drama that is happening in front of their eyes?” said Delpini.

In the few days since Salvini’s speech, more than 200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis also spoke out after Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, blocked the Aquarius, a rescue ship with more than 600 people on board, from docking in Italy in June. “I encourage those who bring them aid and hope that the international community will act in a united and efficient fashion to prevent the causes of forced migration,” the pontiff said.

At the same time, Salvini has been nurturing a relationship with US Cardinal Richard Burke, a fierce critic of Pope Francis and supporter of Donald Trump, as he strives to build consensus from within the church.

Cosimo Scordato, a priest at Saint Francesco church in Ballarò, a neighbourhood of Palermo and home to many migrants recently arrived in Sicily, compared Salvini’s use of religious imagery to that deployed by Mafia bosses.

“Holding a rosary in front of thousands of supporters reminds me of Mafia bosses holding the Bible,” Fr Scordato, who has been subjected to intimidation by the Mafia, told the Guardian.

“Mobsters believe themselves to be sort-of spokesmen of Christian values, they feel protected by the church and want to show people they have God on their side.”

Scordato said he recently wrote a letter to Salvini encouraging him to see migrants as an opportunity in a country with a low birth rate and ageing population. He got no reply.

Fr Enzo Volpe, a Salesian priest in Palermo, said Christians have “forgotten about the Good Samaritan, who healed and took care of the poor”.

“Young Italians are moving to the US and England in search of work and opportunities,” he added. “What if these countries had stopped Italians at the border like Italy is doing with Africans? What’s the difference? Is it because Africans are black?”

Fr Luigi Ciotti, one of the most popular priests in Italy, organised a protest this weekend, which invites people to wear a red T-shirt – the same colour worn by three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

“Red also means to stop,” he said. “And we need to stop now, stop and reflect and look inside ourselves. We need to question our hearts and conscience: what are we becoming?”

Earlier this week Fr Alex Zanotelli, a member of the Comboni missionaries in Verona, urged journalists to report on the tragedies in Africa and raise more awareness among Italians about the plight of migrants, who are now perceived by many as “parasites” and “invaders”.

“If Italians don’t know what’s going on in Africa, they cannot understand why so many people are fleeing their lands and risking their lives,” he said.

But with the Democratic party failing to voice a strong opposition, the onus rests on the priests to wrestle against Salvini.

“The party is divided and doesn’t know how to counteract Salvini, and on which issues,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome. “Due to people being so connected to him and the immigration issue, there is a fear that [opposing him] could be damaging.”

Source: Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration