(January 19, 2020 / Israel Hayom) These are tumultuous days for Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s right-wing Lega (League) Party. Recent polls have projected that were elections to be held in Italy today, he would be elected prime minister, but his political opponents are trying to strip him of his immunity so they can bring charges against him for alleged misconduct while he was interior minister.
Since arriving on the political scene six years ago, Salvini has transformed Lega Nord per l’Indipendenza della Padania, better known as Lega, from a fringe movement into Italy’s largest right-wing party.
Dubbed by Italian media as “the face of anti-immigration politics,” Salvini entered the government in 2018, only to resign abruptly in the summer of 2019 after clashing with his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement. Named deputy prime minister and interior minister, Salvini worked to stop mass illegal immigration from Africa to Italy but was hindered by the constant sandbagging of his efforts.
Salvini’s Lega Party, which is very critical of the European Union, is currently besting all other political parties in nationwide polls, with an impressive 34 percent approval rate among voters. Now a member of the opposition, he is sparing no effort to take two counties where voters are die-hard left-wing supporters, as a historic political upset there could herald a change in Italian politics across the board.
Salvini’s political rivals, however, are attempting to strip him of his parliamentary immunity so he can be brought to trial. In August 2018, as interior minister, Salvini blocked a ship with 150 migrants aboard off the coast of Sicily for almost a week, finally letting it dock after Albania, Ireland and Italy’s Catholic Church agreed to house them. Magistrates subsequently put him under investigation for abuse of power and asked parliament to strip him of his immunity from prosecution. However, in March 2019 the Italian Senate denied the request, stating he had been acting in Italy’s national interest.
Salvini’s party, however, is also under investigation for allegedly receiving funding from Russian sources, an accusation Lega denies.
In an interview with Israel Hayom, Salvini talked about political persecution and compared his situation to that of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom are facing similar woes.
Q: Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, why are we again experiencing a surge in anti-Semitism in Europe?
A: I think that it has to do with the strengthening of Islamic extremism and fanaticism in [recent] years. Most importantly it is connected to the fact that some academics and media are mobilized against Israel and they create hate of Israel to justify anti-Semitism. There is, of course, anti-Semitism of small political minority groups—Nazis and communists. But now the massive presence in Europe of migrants coming from Muslim countries, among whom are many fanatics who are getting the full support of certain intellectuals, is spreading anti-Semitism, in Italy as well.
Q: But we are being told that this anti-Semitism is connected to the rise of new right-wing parties in Europe.
A: There is far-right anti-Semitism, and there is a far-left anti-Semitism, that is institutionalized. Think of [British Labour Leader] Jeremy Corbyn, or the leftist activists in Germany, who didn’t want to be like the Nazis and ended up boycotting Israeli products. I am sure, however, that the high number of Muslims in Europe is the main cause for the current anti-Semitism.
Q: You are being accused of having contacts with political organizations that are anti-Semitic. What is your reaction to this accusation?
A: We [Lega] have no relations whatsoever with such organizations. In the elections, parties like Forza Nuova, CasaPound [and] Fiamma are running against us. So there are no contacts with them. Those who believe in neo-Nazi and neo-fascist anti-Semitism are our enemies, as [are] those who believe in the anti-Semitism of the radical left and radical Islam. It’s an obligation to fight all those who claim that the Jews are the Nazis of our time.
Q: Why is it important to you that Italy adopts the international definition of anti-Semitism?
A: To put an end to the hypocrisy of the left-wing parties, which are talking about boycotting Israel. Now, among the parties sitting in the government, there is a support for the state of Palestine, for Venezuela and Iran. The definition is going to clarify their positions, like the one regarding the issue of BDS. There are those who fight for Palestinians’ statehood but deny self-determination for the Jews. This contradiction is based on hypocrisy. Italy has been too slow in adopting this international definition.
Q: You said that the hate for Israel is a dangerous crime. How can we bring the European Union to understand that and fight against it?
A: We should start working on it in the schools, among the youth. I spent nine years at the European Parliament, and I can say that the European institutions—let alone the institutions [of] the U.N.—are no friends of Israel. The European Parliament has today a majority that is not friendly to Israel. So, I believe we shouldn’t focus on these institutions but rather on the new generations. Those who want to erase the State of Israel should know that they will have in us an enemy. Israel is an ally. This should be taught in schools and universities.
Q: Do you regret leaving the government?
A: No, I would have done it again. I am sorry about one thing—that the current government is trying to dismantle our reforms on taxes, pensions and immigration, that were useful for Italy. But we will pass them again.
Q: When you will become prime minister, will Italy recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
A: Yes. Absolutely.
Q: Should the European Union ban the BDS movement for being an anti-Semitic movement?
Q: Should the European Union join the United States in issuing harsh sanctions on Iran and supporting an Iranian revolt against the Islamic regime?
A: Yes. To do so, we would need a strong and free Europe because nowadays, we are unfortunately hostage of economic interests and leftist prejudices that are anti-U.S. and anti-Israel.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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