Anti-Jewish graffiti in Rome has little to do with Israel and Gaza, and everything to do with Europe’s ugly history of anti-Semitism.
Someone tried to scrub the October 16 plaque clean, but over the past few nights across Rome more than 70 disturbing hate messages were scrawled with black and red paint on Jewish businesses and throughout the so-called Jewish Ghetto around the city’s main synagogue. Phrases like “Anne Frank Was A Liar,” “Dirty Jews,” “Jews your end is near,” and “Israel executioner” were written in spray paint alongside Celtic crosses and rows and rows of swastikas.
“It’s like 1933,” Riccardo Pacifici, the head of Rome’s Jewish community, told reporters. “This morning Rome woke up in the worst possible way. Its walls have been defaced by dozens of graffiti praising neo-Nazi hatred towards Jews.”
Rome’s streets are the latest in Europe to become bulletin boards for anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment. But unlike hate events in France, which have become violent and often involve the children of immigrants with Muslim backgrounds who claim Palestinian sympathies, Italian anti-Semitism is being blamed on Italians of European descent. Italy’s counterterrorism law enforcement agency DIGOS (Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali) says that the extreme right and extreme left wings of the Italian political spectrum have joined forces to spread the hate, issuing an alert warning, “There is new solidarity between the opposite extremists.”
Police will be studying footage from surveillance cameras that captured many of the anti-Semitic perpetrators in the act. According to a report by DIGOS published in the Italian press, most appear to be young men.The extreme right and extreme left wings of the Italian political spectrum have joined forces to spread the hate.
In Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, a group of elderly ladies sitting on a park bench near the synagogue lamented the surge in hatred. “These aren’t people with real political beliefs,” Michela Pavoncello, 68, told The Daily Beast. “These are opportunists looking for a reason to attack us.”
Many Italian cities have hosted pro-Palestinian sit-ins since the current conflict got underway, including a well-attended protest on the Rialto Bridge in Venice in mid-July. Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, warns that the surge in anti-Semitic violence is not in line with pro-Palestinian sentiment. “These are groups that take advantage,” he said, making it clear they are “bolstering the neo-Nazi right.” At the same time, said Segni, “The left in Italy that supports Hamas must also reflect on their actions.”
Rome has the oldest Jewish community in all of Europe and one of the oldest continuous settlements in the world, but the country still struggles with its anti-Semitic past. There have been a number of attacks against Jewish interests over the last few years. In 2012, more than a dozen Italians belonging to the group “ultras” were arrested after attacking Jewish fans of England’s Tottenham football club in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori. They wielded baseball bats and knives, yelling “Jews, Jews, Jews” as they carried out the attacks.
Police have also closed down a number of white supremacist private clubs in Rome, which reportedly were decorated with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans associated with “Blocco Studentesco,” which is the youth movement of Italy’s Casa Pound, which shares sympathies with Italy’s historic radical right-wing extremist parties.
Even popular politicians harbor old prejudices. Just last week Gianni Vattimo, a former European Parliamentarian and self-described Marxist philosopher, told Italy’s state radio station that “Israel is a bit worse than the Nazis,” and that he’d “like to shoot those bastard Zionists.” He also called upon the European community to pool resources to “buy Hamas some more rockets.”
Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, expressed his solidarity with Rome’s Jewish community. “The anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared today in different areas of the city are a disgrace and an insult to all Romans,” he said. “Rome wants and needs to be a capital of dialogue and peace, not a barbaric battleground.”
Piled in one room in the Gaza war zone are rotting bodies—and shell casings marked “IMI,” short for “Israel Military Industries.”
The temporary ceasefire announced Thursday night was supposed to give the residents of places like this time to return home, take stock of the damage and collect belongings. But the “72-hour” ceasefire broke down after 90 minutes, and as I walked through the main street, where pieces of humans were visible beneath homes and stores, the constant thud of exploding Israeli shells grew closer and closer.
As I reach the berm of sand, tile and stucco that marked a kind of front line, bodies are being piled on carts in the street. Near the ruins of a demolished store, the black ammunition vests worn by Palestinian fighters lie in tatters as if hastily stripped off. There are no bodies or weapons nearby.
Suddenly journalists and local residents are shouting from a house on the edge of the front. The small family home is still intact but the stench of rotting flesh that comes from inside is overpowering.
A barefoot corpse in camouflaged khakis is being carried into the street, partially wrapped in rug, as I enter the house. His partly burned and partly decomposing face is unrecognizable as anyone who was ever alive and breathing. Witnesses say there were at least six bodies piled together inside this one tiled room where the air is poisonous with decay.
What happened here? It is the kind of place and the kind of incident that may be studied for years. We may hear that the Palestinians were executing suspected collaborators, or that a lone Israeli soldier went mad and started murdering prisoners. It could be that members of an Israeli army unit at the center of the fighting decided to take out their rage on those they captured. There may be many theories. All I can tell you is what I saw and heard at the scene this day.
Twenty-one-year-old Naban Abu Shaar told me he was one of the first to find the bodies. He said they looked as if they were “melted” and piled on top of each other.
“When we entered the bathroom, I found the bodies of people slumped on top of each other in the corner,” he said, staring into the distance as if disconnected from his words.
The owner of the house, Mohammad Abu Al Sharif, said he couldn’t recognize the bodies but believed, because of their clothes, some of the dead may have been from his family. He did not say if any of them were fighters. The house had nine members living in it before Abu Al Sharif, his wife and four daughters escaped Khuzaa 20 days ago. He lost contact with those who stayed, he said.Naban Abu Shaar told me he was one of the first to find the bodies. He said they looked as if they were “melted” and piled on top of each other.
In the streets around, some residents pulled clothes and blankets from the crushed concrete of obliterated homes while others used farming tools to unearth the dead. Shell-shocked women stumbled down the pulverized road, wiping sweat and tears with their hejabs as they cursed—to no one in particular—both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi for not protecting them from Israel.
The signs of the panicked flight almost three weeks ago were apparent everywhere in town. Neatly hung laundry still dangled over the main street from the second-floor balcony of an apartment above a blown-out storefront.
Khalid al Najar, 27, was half dazed as he walked back toward Khan Younis with a plastic bag of clothes. This is his first time returning home since he fled nearly three weeks ago. “I’m from a place that used to be called Khuzaa,” he told me.
With all the finest technology at our fingertips today, the good news is we can work anywhere; the bad news is...we can work anywhere! In one recent study, 44% of Americans check their email and texts on vacation, 50% in bed, and a full 60% are connected to their company email 13+ hours a day. Not surprisingly, the average American puts in a month and a half of overtime each year. With that kind of zeal, squeezing in extracurriculars is more essential than ever. Serious work calls for serious play. Slightly more creative than, say, extreme shopping or Netflix bingeing, instigate a playful riff with colleagues at the water-cooler about some of the more whimsical hobbies. There’s competitive whittling and church-bell ringing, belly dancing, storm chasing, yodeling, glass blowing, and gold-panning... Then think about choosing your own personal enrichment. Whatever it is doesn’t much matter. What does, is that you do it, and that it helps to make a better, well-rounded you.
LENOVO. FOR THOSE WHO DO.
This content is partner content, and was not necessarily written or created by The Daily Beast editorial team.
The ‘Get On Up’ actress on why TV is more diverse than film, and how life has changed since winning her Oscar for ‘The Help.’
After winning the gold statuette for her deliciously sassy turn as Minny Jackson, the shit pie-servin’ maid in The Help, Spencer has popped up in supporting roles in the critically acclaimed indies Smashed, Fruitvale Station, and this year’s Snowpiercer, but hasn’t really been offered the juicy parts regularly afforded an actress of her Oscar-winning stature. So, she’s migrating to television, starring in this fall’s Fox series Red Band Society, which debuts Sept. 17. She’ll play Nurse Jackson, the overseer of a group of sick teenagers in a hospital’s pediatric ward—and is the outright lead.
She also stars in the James Brown biopic Get On Up. Reuniting with Tate Taylor, her longtime pal who directed her to that Oscar in The Help, she plays Aunt Honey—a brothel madam who takes in a young James Brown (eventually played by Chadwick Boseman) after he’s cast out by his family.
The Daily Beast sat down with Spencer for an enlightening discussion about Hollywood, race, and the opportunities afforded to actresses on television vs. film.
That last time we spoke was prior to your winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Help. How has life changed for you since then?
Life is exactly the same. Life is the same. I have to lead a very small life in terms of what people think “Hollywood” is. It’s a full life for me, but I’m not jetting across the world. But life is good. I’m doing a TV series for Steven Spielberg called Red Band Society, and it’s the best pilot script I’ve ever read.
What motivated you to go to television?
Well, the roles I’m being offered in film are too small to sink your teeth into, and I thought it was time to be able to live with a character at inception and travel with her to fruition, and allow myself to evolve as an actress. I don’t get that opportunity in movies, where they ask me, “Will you play the distraught mom of this boy?” I say, “Sure, but I’ve played it before.” I wanted to play against-type, and while people will say, “She’s playing a no-nonsense nurse,” there’s so much more to her than that.
Why do you think the parts you’re being offered after winning an Oscar for your excellent performance The Help are, like you said, “too small to sink your teeth into?” This phenomenon seems to happen more to people of color who win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. It doesn’t happen to the Rachel Weiszs of the world, but to the Mo’Niques and Jennifer Hudsons and Octavia Spencers.
There are so few roles out there. And even if it is a film that could be led by a black actress, how many times is that film going to get funded? Let’s just be real. But it’s not just black people. It’s Asians, it’s Hispanic people if you’re not Salma Hayek. It’s hard. It’s hard to get films funded. It’s a business thing, and you have to change the mindset of people around here. The fact that Think Like A Man made so much money last year—over $100 million—but got very limited worldwide distribution is a problem. Will Smith would not be Worldwide Will Smith if he had not insisted on going worldwide and touring with his films. You have to build that audience for people and allow for it to happen.
I learned this at a Jeffrey Katzenberg party the night before the Oscars a few years ago, but there were all these people being escorted around and all they wanted to see were the people from television. So I thought, “Well, hello! In order for you to be known worldwide if you’re not getting the introduction through films, you need to be in television.” I don’t have a problem with the medium—film or television—because I’m an actor. I act. So if I’m able to get a part that helps me stretch myself and evolve as an actress? Wonderful. And if I get to be a part of something that will expand myself to a worldwide audience? Hell yeah. Sign me up.“Let’s just be real. But it’s not just black people. It’s Asians, it’s Hispanic people if you’re not Salma Hayek. It’s hard.”
I was talking with Patricia Arquette about film vs. television, and she mentioned how actresses of a certain age on film really seem to be given the cold shoulder, but there’s a home for them on TV and they’re able to play much richer parts.
I’m barely 44, but that’s still the pasture, I guess. Hollywood is strange in and of itself. People dress up and pretend to be other people, and you can either make millions of dollars, or no money. It’s odd. But what I love about it is thank God for television, because you wouldn’t have the diversity. Now, we’re seeing it a little more in blockbuster movies. Thor had a multicultural cast. So did Winter Soldier. The Amazing Spider-Man 2. To me, that’s what it should be. It baffles me that everything is so homogenized, because the world isn’t, and yet we continue to support things that are so incredibly milquetoast.
Right. But television seems to be light-years ahead of movies when it comes to diversity. Look at what Shonda Rhimes is doing, what Orange Is the New Black is doing.
Simon Kinberg told me they cast your Fruitvale co-star Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four because he was just the best guy who read for the part.
Exactly. It’s wonderful that we’re making strides. That’s what I love about Red Band Society—we have Latin, Asian, black, gay, straight, and Indian cast members. Think about it: The hospital is the most diverse place ever. I am thrilled because the subject matter is rich, but I like that it is a tapestry of color, which is very much needed. I play a nurse in a pediatric hospital. She’s sort of like the principal in The Breakfast Club. My character is pretty strict, and it’s not sentimental or sad; it’s more life-affirming, and you watch children who are sick, some with terminal illnesses, go through the rigors of getting better while also being kids.
With Get On Up, what is the protocol with Tate now? You two go way back. I read that you starred in a short film of his, Chicken Party, back in 2003?
Honey, I’ve done everything that he has ever, ever done—and he’s done a lot of stuff that people don’t know about. If I tell you, then I may have to kill you. It’s gonna hurt my feelings one day when there’s not a part for me in one of his films! This is how it went: Ring-Ring! Tate, are you doing James Brown!? Well you better find something for me in it! Okay? I love you, bye. We go way back. We met on A Time to Kill. We were both PAs.
But I heard that you ended up talking Joel Schumacher into giving you a speaking part on that.
He did, too! He was Matthew McConaughey’s butt double. That scene where Sandra Bullock gives Matthew the shot in his butt? That’s Tate Taylor’s butt—that big, gorgeous thigh with a lil’ butt cheek on top.
Did you have to intern and PA on a lot of films before breaking through?
I had been working behind-the-scenes since I was out of college. I interned on the Whoopi Goldberg movie The Long Walk Home, and went around the South working as a casting associate. I’d work with the extras, and my boss would work on the one-line parts. When we’d have our director-sessions, all the directors would say, “You’re really animated and have a great personality. You should read for us!” But I was terrified. Joel Schumacher was the first director to not say that to me, so I was like, “What’s wrong with you!? Everybody else wants me to read for them!” so I finally asked him, “Can I read for you?” If I hadn’t asked him, I don’t know if I’d be doing this today.
Why were you so terrified to read for those other directors?
Oh, I have terrible stage fright. I still do. I don’t think that ever goes away. On film, you’re not there to entertain the massive audience—you’re there, and people’s job on set isn’t to be entertained, just to do whatever their job is. Stage is different, because you know people are there for you to entertain them. Oof!
Do you have any favorite James Brown tunes?
Well, I love “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” and “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” I love his music. There isn’t a song of his that I don’t like.
I was hoping for a warts-and-all portrayal of James Brown, and they do show scenes of him rolling up an Angel Dust joint and hitting his wives. Do you feel they did an ample job of portraying his troubled later years—in particular, the violence towards women?
Well, here’s what I’ll say: We all have our vices. There are certain things that you have to keep in mind: He has a family and lots of kids that are still alive, and they still know his life. There are some things that don’t need to be immortalized as long as they’re addressed. To me, what’s more interesting is the story that we don’t know—the stuff about his childhood. The other stuff is all out there, and if they were going to re-create that, they wouldn’t have needed to make a movie. So, it depends on the viewer. There will be some people who think, “I wish they touched on it more,” and some people where it will suffice. But I can tell you it’s not a paint-by-numbers biopic, and I’m excited about that.
I’ve got to ask you about Never Been Kissed, which is a Stern family favorite. Do you have any cherished memories from shooting that way back when?
Oh my God, I haven’t seen it in years! It’s basically me, John C. Reilly, and Molly Shannon watching the TV and eating popcorn. I remember eating a lot of popcorn!
New York-based writer Yochanan Gordon created a Twitter firestorm Friday with a piece on The Times of Israel—since deleted—called ‘When Genocide Is Permissible.’
“I will conclude with a question for all the humanitarians out there,” Gordon writes. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated at the outset of this incursion that his objective is to restore a sustainable quiet for the citizens of Israel. We have already established that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety and security of its people. If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide, is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?”
Within moments, outraged reactions began pouring in on Twitter—including one from this writer—and shortly after, the post was taken down.
But a cached version of the piece, including all of the original language is still available, and Gordon also posted it in a recent Facebook status. Three people have liked it.
Gordon did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast, but David Horovitz, the founding editor of The Times of Israel, said in an email that the post “breaches Times of Israel editorial guidelines.”
He said that after ensuring that the publication took the post down, he did not wish to speak on the matter any further. Asked if he believed he bore any responsibility for the outrage the piece inspired, as his publication is in the midst of covering an ongoing conflict, he offered no response.
Gordon’s piece comes on the heels of a recent op-ed from Thane Rosenbaum, director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society at New York University Law School, arguing that Palestinians can no longer be considered “citizens.”“The existence of Israel and the Jewish people is at stake. How do you suggest we neutralize the threat?”
And earlier this summer, Israeli Knesset member Ayelet Shaked shared a Facebook post that included language referring to Palestinian children as “little snakes.”
Gordon is a blogger and not a staffer at The Times of Israel, which does nothing to excuse his language but does help offer Horovitz an opportunity to dodge questions from reporters. The process of becoming a blogger for the site appears to be simple, with questions about topics that will be covered, experience with said topics, and a brief biography of the author to accompany a 300x300 pixel black-and-white image.
The blogger defended his piece Friday in a series of tweets to outraged readers, including writer Elon Green.
“The existence of Israel and the Jewish people is at stake. How do you suggest we neutralize the threat?” Gordon tweeted.
“News anchors such as those from CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have not missed an opportunity to point out the majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of this war,” Gordon writes. “But anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian.”
That argument, against the innocence of Palestinian civilians, is what Rosenbaum attempted to describe in his op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. After reading Gordon’s piece, the law expert assured The Daily Beast that Israel wasn’t committing genocide but that it could if it wanted.
“Well, using the word ‘genocide’ is an insult to what Operation Protective Edge is about. It’s morally wrong and it’s belied by the facts,” Rosenbaum said. “The goal is to protect, not mass murder. The Israelis don’t have a systematic plan to kill all Gazans. They receive no advantage on the world stage whenever a single civilian is killed. If they wanted to commit genocide, given the massive firepower they possess, they could achieve it in a day without the loss of life of a single Israeli soldier.”
Even suggesting in public discourse that a reasoned and analytical line of thinking could lead a person to genocide as a conclusion is dangerous. Hamas, the militant Islamist wing that wields political power in Gaza, is the organization most often accused of being genocidal. So what can be said when it is discussed as a possibility in a media outlet like The Times of Israel?
“The blog post, which was both damnable and ignorant, was posted to the site by a blogger,” Miriam Herschlag, the ops and blogs editor of The Times of Israel, said in an emailed statement to The Daily Beast. “It was removed by the Times of Israel for breaching our editorial guidelines. The blog has been discontinued.”
Discontinued, but not forgotten, Gordon’s headline was trending on Twitter on Friday, so perhaps he got the notoriety he wanted.
“The Times of Israel welcomes bloggers of all stripes,” the website states. “If you have an idea for a new blog about anything from your life as a struggling thespian (or politician, plumber or fisherman, for that matter), to the daily doings of your remote Jewish community, recipes for potato latkes, compelling musings on the divine—we’re open-minded; you get the idea.”