Italy criticizes call for Jewish boycott over Gaza

ROME (Reuters) - Italian politicians from right and left joined Jewish groups Friday in condemning a trade union’s call to boycott Jewish-owned shops in Rome in protest at the Israeli bombing offensive in the Gaza Strip.

While the union denied accusations of anti-Semitism, Rome’s right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno visited the city’s ancient Jewish quarter known as the Ghetto and said the “criminal” proposal echoed the race laws under fascism in the 1930s.

“I am an Italian citizen and it infuriates me that people don’t differentiate between the mentality and opinions of an Italian from what is happening in Israel,” Jewish Italian shopkeeper Giuseppe Livoli told La Repubblica newspaper.

Israel’s offensive against Hamas guerrillas has lasted two weeks and the U.N. Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire. Hamas officials say the Palestinian death toll is now 783 people, more than a third of them children.

Israel says its aim is to put a stop to years of rocket fire by Hamas on Israeli towns that have killed 22 people since 2000.

Italian newspapers reproduced handbills they said were dished out Thursday by the small Flaica-Cub union, linked to the retail and food sectors. The flyers urged a boycott of “shops in central Rome linked to the Israelite community.”

But the union’s provincial president Giancarlo Desiderati said on its website Friday that “we never singled out Rome’s Jewish community ... We condemn any form of anti-Semitism.”

“What we propose with our initiative is a definitive boycott of Israel because whoever uses military force against unarmed civilians, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, commits a crime against human life,” said Desiderati.

The head of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, said he would be suing the union under Italian anti-racism laws.

Rome’s Ghetto is home to what may be the oldest surviving Jewish diaspora in the world, dating from the 2nd century BC. Singled out by race laws under dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s and ‘40s, thousands died in Nazi concentration camps.

Italy’s main trade unions denounced the boycott proposal as “shameful” and suggested that Rome shopkeepers throw the Flaica handbills -- which they said listed streets dominated by Jewish shops under the slogan “sales dirtied by blood” -- in the trash.

Editing by Jon Boyle