Rising racism taints Italian electoral campaign


VERONA, Italy (AP) — When hundreds of hardcore Verona soccer fans chanted "Adolf Hitler is my friend" and sang of their team's embrace of the swastika, Italian Jewish communities complained, and waited.

Local officials initially dismissed the incident – which was filmed and circulated on social media by the so-called "ultras" themselves – as a "prank." Condemnation only came several months later, after another video from the same summer party, this time profaning Christian objects, also went viral.

"These episodes should absolutely not be dismissed," said Bruno Carmi, the head of Verona's tiny Jewish community of about 100, speaking at the Verona synagogue, which is flanked by two armed police patrols. "In my opinion, whoever draws a simple swastika on the wall knows what it means."

Racist and anti-Semitic expressions in Italy have been growing more bold, widespread and violent. Anti-migrant rhetoric is playing an unprecedented role in shaping the campaign for the country's March 4 national election, which many say is worsening tensions and even encouraging violence.

Hate crimes motivated by racial or religious bias in Italy rose more than 10-fold, from 71 incidents in 2012 to 803 in 2016, according to police statistics. The five-year period corresponded with an explosion in migrant arrivals.

The latest violence came Feb. 3 when a right-wing extremist shot and wounded six African immigrants in the small central Italian city of Macerata. Police say the suspect claims to have been acting out of revenge after a Nigerian immigrant was arrested on suspicion of killing and dismembering an 18-year-old teen whose remains were found three days earlier. The shooting drew widespread, but not universal, condemnation.

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