Was There an Italian "Muscle Jew"? Jewish and Italian Nationalism from the Trenches to Fascism

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:50 AM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Simon Levis-Sullam, University of Venice, Ca' Foscari
This paper explores the imaginary around the Jews as members of the Italian nation, with special consideration for their self-representation in terms of gender, physical virtues and bourgeois respectability. The key moments of this investigation are the Jewish participation in the First World War and the formation in the mid-1930s of the Jewish nationalist group who called themselves 'Jewish fascists' and were centered on the journal La Nostra Bandiera. In a preliminary section the paper evaluates the Italian Jewish community’s penetration by Max Nordau's concept of the 'muscular Jew' and Otto Weininger's gendered and racialized conceptions developed in his Sex and Character. Our analysis then considers representations of the Jewish participation in the war by the Italian Jewish and non-Jewish press and by commemorative post-war publications. Finally the journal La Nostra Bandiera (and especially the writings of one of its founders and editors, Ettore Ovazza) are scrutinized to reconstruct the contours of the group that called itself 'Jewish' and 'fascist'. Contrary to the German Nazi case, Italian Jews could identify with fascism, because the movement did not have anti-Semitism at its original ideological core.

The paper intends to show how during and after the war most Italian Jews either adopted the key features of Italian nationalist identity and bourgeois respectability, thus downplaying their Jewish belonging; or used elements of a Jewish imaginary to describe the Jewish participation in the war. In the experience of La Nostra Bandiera a synthesis of the two tendencies was attempted. But the reversal of the process of Jewish integration within fascism, which started even before the anti-Semitic turn of 1938, would lay bare the contradictions of a Jewish fascism. In the end, 'muscular' Italian nationalism was in contradiction with any form of 'muscular' Jewish nationalism or, actually, any Jewish (or 'non-Italian') allegiance.