Never known for his sensivity – and already in trouble for telling a gag about Hitler – Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was today condemned for more ‘deplorable’ jokes. The Italian prime minister was filmed cracking jokes to members of the public which depicted Jews as money-grabbers, mocked the appearance of a female opposition MP and used the Italian language’s most offensive religious oath.The jokes were described as “deplorable” by the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which said they offended “the sentiments of believers and the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah”.
Days after Berlusconi told a youth rally an apparent joke about Adolf Hitler, he emerged from his Rome residence on 29 September to regale supporters with a joke about a Jew who charges fellow Jews money to hide in his basement from the Nazis, without telling them the war is over.
As the video of the encounter was posted on the internet, a second candid video, dating from earlier this year, also appeared.
In it, Berlusconi, filmed during a visit to L’Aquila, tells a joke poking fun at the physical appearance of Rosy Bindi, an grey haired, bespectacled opposition politician.
The punchline featured the oath ‘Porco Dio’, which roughly translates as ‘Pig God’. It is considered one of the most blasphemous phrases in Italian.
Criticism from the Vatican’s newspaper was matched by Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ conference, which denounced Berlusconi’s “insupportable blasphemy and Jewish stereotyping.”
Denis Verdini, a Berlusconi MP defended the prime minister, claiming: “Swear words and oaths sometimes slip out.”
In a statement, Berlusconi claimed that jokes made in private were “neither an offence nor a sin, but merely a laugh”.
“The bad taste and the responsibility are on the part of whoever publicises them,” he added.
The day after Berlusconi cracked his Jewish joke, a senator in his Freedom People party was also accused of anti-semitism.
In a speech to the Italian senate, Giuseppe Ciarrapico, 76, called Gianfranco Fini, the politician who has split ranks with Berlusconi, a traitor.
“Has Fini’s grouping already ordered the kippah?’ Ciarrapico asked, referring to the Jewish skullcap. “He who has betrayed once always betrays,” he added, apparently referring to Fini’s decision to break with his neo-fascist political past and visit Israel to denounce Nazism in 2003.
Emanuele Fiano, an MP with the opposition Democratic party, called Ciarrapico’s statement “shameful”.
“It is a few decades since we heard something like this in parliament,” he said. “He spoke of the skull cap as if it were dishonourable.”