Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi (Reuters)

One of Silvio Berlusconi's deputy ministers has attempted to smooth over a gaffe by the former prime minister who compared the fallout on his family from his judicial "persecution" to the experience of Jewish families under Hitler's Nazi rule.

Mario Mantovani, deputy president of the Lombardy region of People of Liberty (PdL), was meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Recalling the sacrifice of Italian residents of Lombardy who helped Jews under fascism, Mantovani planted a tree in the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations in Jerusalem. The garden is meant to honour those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews.

Mantovani said: "[The tree] is a hymn to all forms of life and freedom against the many faces of persecution that, as in the case of Silvio Berlusconi, may even occur with the denial of equal rights."

The disgraced media mogul, who faces another trial for allegedly bribing a senator, was heavily criticised by Italy's Jewish community after saying that he and his children felt persecuted like Jews in Nazi Germany.

"My children say that they feel like Jewish families in Germany under Hitler's regime. Truly, everyone is against us," Berlusconi said in a reply to a question about whether his five kids had asked him to sell his media empire and escape from Italy.

The 77-year-old centre-right leader's remarks were slated by Renzo Gattegna, head of Italy's Jewish community association. The comparison "is not only inappropriate and incomprehensible, but is offensive to the memory of those deprived of all rights and, after being subjected to atrocious and unspeakable atrocities, their lives".

Nichi Vendola, leader of a leftist opposition party, said: "To trivialise a terrible tragedy like the Holocaust for everyday political polemics, as Berlusconi has, is chilling".

It is not the first gaffe by Berlusconi concerning the Nazis. In 2003, he compared German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, who is now president of the European Parliament, to a Nazi concentration camp guard.