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Accepted Paper:

More Italian than the Italians! Claiming National Belonging among Jews from Libya  


Piera Rossetto (University of Graz)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how a sense of Italianness developed among Libyan Jews in colonial and postcolonial times; how it was mobilised to obtain Italian citizenship once they migrated to Italy in the late 1960s; and how it contributes to current debate on borders and boundaries in contemporary Italy.

Paper long abstract:

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, some five thousand Jews from Libya, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria settled in Italy and their arrival deeply affected, especially in demographic terms, the profile of the Jewish population of the country. As a whole, these migrations unveil the social and cultural entanglements between Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region and their long-lasting legacies as they emerge in the performances of memories and identities of the migrants.

The paper questions to which extent these migrations were a 'return home' for Jewish subjects who often perceived themselves as 'European' in their country of origin and yet became 'Easterner or Arab' in their country of destination. Which ruptures and/or continuities in terms of cultural affiliation and social and religious ties did they experience? How did they challenge the national belonging from the perspective of its margins?

The paper discusses in particular the case of Jews who arrived en masse from Libya to Italy during the summer 1967: I explore how a 'sense of Italianness' formed among Jews in Libya during the Italian colonial period and in the decades following its formal end; how this sense of belonging was mobilised to claim Italian citizenship after the emigration; finally, I argue that this case study represents a source of reflection to consider contemporary issues of borders and boundaries, human mobilities and right to citizenship in particular for the case of Italy which has one of the strictest legislations in Europe concerning citizenship.

Panel P180
Shared marginal experiences? Comparing postcolonial memories from the European margins