ROME – Comic Beppe Grillo’s populist tirades were seen as a benign outlet for popular anger in the days his protest movement was a sideshow in Italian politics. Now that he’s one of Italy’s most powerful figures, his views are coming under greater scrutiny – and a history of anti-Semitic statements has started to raise concern outside the country.
Grillo’s 5-Star Movement captured a quarter of the votes in last month’s national elections, making him the kingmaker in a ballot that left none of the mainstream parties in control of Parliament.
Given that political clout, foreign observers have expressed alarm over comments Grillo has made about a Jewish lobby controlling information, about Jewish Hollywood producers out to get actor Mel Gibson and about how he finds Israel frightening.
The statements have yet to create much of a stir in Italy itself, where anti-Jewish and other racial slurs can find a surprisingly high level of tolerance. But anti-defamation advocates say Grillo must now be held to account due to his new position of power.
As an entertainer, he was only accountable to his public. Now, he’s accountable to all of the people of Italy and his antics and ravings about Jews and Israel become a much more serious concern, said Michael Salberg, New York-based director of international affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.
The expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment by someone who attracted nearly 25 percent of the vote is a matter of concern, Salberg said, while adding there was no indication that Grillo’s popularity with voters was tied to anti-Semitism.
The anti-Semitic thread winds back years, with an entry Grillo made in his much-followed blog shortly after Gibson made derogatory comments about Jews during his arrest for drunken driving in 2006.