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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

League Honors a 'Flawed Friend,' Italy's Berlusconi

September 27, 2003

Re "Honor Italy's Leader? Look a Little Deeper," Commentary, Sept. 22: Alexander Stille misses the point of the Anti-Defamation League giving its Distinguished Statesman Award to Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The honor is presented to leaders who exhibit an extraordinary commitment to furthering the achievement of regional and world peace and other contributions to international events. At a time when the U.S. is leading the struggle against the greatest threat to the civilized world, international terrorism, and when Israel is a direct target of such terrorists, Berlusconi's leadership has been critical and outstanding.

Italy's support for the U.S. when it was looking for friends in Europe and leadership in getting the European Union to cut off funding to the Islamic terrorist group Hamas are exemplary and deserving of commendation. Yes, Berlusconi is a "flawed friend," but a friend, indeed -- to America, to Israel and to the Jewish people.

Bruce J. Einhorn

Chair, Pacific Southwest Region, Anti-Defamation League, Los Angeles

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It is really sad that President Bush and the Anti-Defamation League would honor this man who cannot separate his private interest from his duties as prime minister. His fight to save himself from criminal investigations is destroying the Italian judicial system. To have such a man as prime minister and, for six months, president of the European Union, is shameful. Perhaps we should start defending democracy in our own Western World before we try to teach democracy to other countries.

Claudio Pellegrini

Sherman Oaks

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Stille's politically motivated diatribe, which completely disregards history and the facts, is a pointed reminder that Italy is in the throes of the same ever-more-virulent ideological war as the United States. Out of power and facing a popular and successful conservative administration, the outraged Italian left will say and do anything to undermine Berlusconi (just as their U.S. counterparts do with President Bush).

Berlusconi has not been convicted of a crime, despite countless attempts to frame him by the vast left-wing conspiracy in Italy; in a time of vicious dictatorships, Mussolini's fascism was relatively benign and did not execute or murder its citizens; and, for a Jew during World War II, there was no better place in Europe to be than in Italy.

Edward I. Placidi

Valley Glen

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In his critique of Berlusconi's soft-soaping of Mussolini, Stille doesn't tell half of the villainy of the former fascist dictator. His use of weapons of mass destruction (poison gas) against Ethiopian civilians was followed by Pol Pot-like mass executions that decimated Ethiopia's educated classes. In Libya, Mussolini established concentration camps in which a large part of the population died of heat, thirst, starvation and disease. The same occurred during his "pacification" of what was then Italian Somaliland. (The genocidal record of fascism in Africa has long been scandalously downplayed, and not just by Berlusconi.)

Mussolini's military intervention in Spain helped the brutal Franco dictatorship come to power. His cowardly "stab in the back" of France was one of the all-time lows of international politics. He also collaborated with Hitler in his aggression against Russia -- a disaster for the unprepared Italian soldiers sent to freeze to death in the Russian winter. Mussolini belongs on the marquee with the other great ogres of the 20th century.

Gilbert Dewart

Pasadena

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