ROME – The head of Rome's Jewish community joined the Vatican newspaper and others Tuesday in sharply rebuking Premier Silvio Berlusconi for a joke about Jews, money and the Holocaust which was caught on videotape.
The joke was one of several controversial comments Berlusconi made while chatting with fans outside his residence on his 74th birthday last week. His comments were captured on video and broadcast this weekend on the website of the left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper.
On Saturday, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference slammed the gaffe-prone premier and a day later the Vatican newspaper said his comments were "deplorable."
Berlusconi apologized — sort of — saying what he had said wasn't a sin or an offense, just a joke and that the bad taste was in those who published it.
In an open letter published Tuesday by Italy's leading Corriere della Sera newspaper, Jewish community leader Riccardo Pacifici deplored Berlusconi's "imprudent jokes" and called on him to sever alliances with politicians showing "nostalgic feelings about fascism."
"We want to hope that the anti-fascist conscience of the premier will know how to prevail," said Pacifici, emphasizing that no Italian government has been a bigger supporter of Israel than Berlusconi's.
Berlusconi is known to throw political correctness to the winds, as when he raised eyebrows in Washington by describing then President-elect Obama as "young, handsome and even tanned."
Just recently he drew criticism for another joke about Hitler returning to power.
"Berlusconi's problem is not that of anti-Semitism but of bad manners. He tells crude jokes about Jews, women, politicians, and so many other topics that come to mind. He should comport himself in a manner befitting a prime minister, apologize, and move on," Elan Steinberg vice president, American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in an e-mail.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Berlusconi's jokes were particularly "deplorable" as they helped fuel a heated political climate in Italy which has seen Berlusconi battle for political survival after breaking with a longtime ally.
It said Berlusconi's jokes "offended the sentiments of believers and the sacred memory of the 6 million dead in the Shoah," using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.