In an electoral upset last month, Elly Schlein was chosen to be the new leader of Italy’s Democratic party. Schlein, the daughter of a Jewish political scientist, represents her party’s radical wing, and her victory over the centrists has been compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the British Labor party from the Blairites in 2015. She has also been the subject of a great deal of ugly ad-hominem abuse—concerning her personal life, her Jewish forbears, and her supposedly Semitic nose. Asked about this at a press conference, she pointed out that she is not Jewish (since her mother is a Gentile) and, moreover, that she possesses “a typically Etruscan nose.” Ben Cohen comments:
Technically, of course, she is correct: in terms of halakhah, Jewish religious law, she is not Jewish. But under the definition of a Jew outlined in the infamous Nazi racial laws, she most certainly is—and would be entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return as a consequence.
[T]he phrasing of Schlein’s objections suggested that the anti-Semitic barbs she faced didn’t really make sense because she’s not Jewish after all, and that’s what bothered her. The implication here is that these would be more understandable if they were directed at an individual with two Jewish parents.
But there is something more sinister here at work; essentially, she is saying that while she does indeed possess a large nose, it’s an organically Italian one, rather than a foreign Jewish one. What is implicit here is not a protest against anti-Semitism but a complaint about being lumped in with Jews. That is why Schlein’s past comments about Israel—while fairly standard from someone on the European left—give rise to an extra layer of concern. The core challenge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she insists, is its “asymmetrical” nature, with the Israelis holding all the power and the Palestinians none. As a result, she declared in a May 2021 statement during the eleven-day conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, the Jewish state is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” . . .
To hear these words from a leading politician who also believes that there is such a thing as a “Jewish nose” is unsettling, to put it mildly. If Schlein doesn’t want to get labeled as an Italian Jeremy Corbyn—and perhaps she does—then she needs to reverse course now.