Kristine L Ming

Rome emphasizes ties to Israel and Holocaust remembrance

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, a distinguished academic with an in-depth background in law, science and politics, could not have wished for a warmer welcome to Israel than that which he received at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute on Sunday.

He was equally gratified, during a tour of the university, to be given access to some of the notes in the Albert Einstein archive, of which the Hebrew University is the custodian, because, he said, they bear witness to Einstein’s collaboration with Italian scientists and academics.

“It is a real joy for me to be in what is really an extraordinary city,” said Mattarella, who in the next breath lauded the Hebrew University as “a driving force in humanistic and scientific knowledge.”

While scientific research enables us to develop our knowledge and be connected to all parts of the planet, reduces mortality and aids longevity, said Mattarella, it does not always go hand in hand with humane sensitivity.

The current situation is reminiscent of the fall of the Roman Empire, he said, noting how it had risen to the peak of scientific knowledge of its era and then had fallen into regression, squandering all the knowledge that it had accumulated.

“Something similar is happening today,” he said, and wondered aloud whether this could be attributed to taking achievements for granted without realizing that they are continually endangered.

This lack of realization, according to Mattarella, is derived from loss of memory of what went before.

“Loss of memory creates the risk of repeating mistakes made by previous generations,” he cautioned, adding that nations around the world must pool their resources to meet the needs of a growing global population.

“This is the real meaning of solidarity in a developed society,” he said, but this is hampered by “an irrational fear of the other.”

He referenced Europe’s immigration crisis and suggested that new phenomena of this kind must be understood and governed, and not be subjected to passive reactions.

Every generation can make sure that the next generation will inherit its knowledge, but it cannot be sure that it will inherit its values, Mattarella warned.

In this context, he referred to the Holocaust, calling it by its Hebrew name, Shoah.

“We must reject every form of violence and terror to ensure that democracy and the rule of law prevail,” he declared. “We must convey the foundations of democratic societies so that the next generation can improve on them.”

He advised looking more closely at the dramatic conflicts in the region “that are filling the Middle East with bloodshed,” and reaffirm the dignity of people, regardless of their faith or status.

In this respect, he said, the Shoah has become a foundational value in post-war Italy, just as it has for the State of Israel, and Italy has embraced the words “Never again!” This means taking on a sense of responsibility, and never again turning the nation’s back on sectors of its citizens, he said.

As evidence of this, the Italian Parliament established the National Museum of Judaism and the Shoah in the city of Ferrera in December 2006, said Mattarella.

“This is further proof of the bond between our two countries,” he said.

The Italian president visited Yad Vashem and the grave of Shimon Peres prior to arriving at the university.

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