Following the swearing-in of Italy’s new coalition government last week, consisting of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), I have a very simple question: Will the PD allow itself to be part of an anti-Semitic government that promotes appeasement of Iran?
The PD has given no evidence—at least from the time of former Party Secretary Matteo Renzi onwards—of being afflicted with anti-Semitism. Indeed, the party has often expressed sympathy with Israel and recognized the contributions of the embattled Jewish state and its upholding of democratic values.
The same cannot be said, however, of M5S.
The 5-Star Movement embraces the most mainstream form of contemporary anti-Semitism, namely the hatred and singling out of Israel. This is perhaps unsurprising; M5S is a populist party, and anti-Semitism has ever been good populist fertilizer.
The “yellow-vest” protesters in France, for example, have employed anti-Semitism to fan the populist flames in that country, even going so far as to physically attack prominent French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. Indeed, they have made anti-Jewish hatred their flag.
On Feb. 5, 2019, Italy’s newly appointed Foreign Minister and M5S leader Luigi Di Maio, along with M5S MP Alessandro Di Battista, visited yellow-vest leaders in Paris to lend some international solidarity to the movement. If the yellow vests use slogans such as “The Jews light [Hanukkah] candles while the French are hungry” or even “Macron = Zion,” what of it?
In the best fascist and Communist tradition, Jew-hatred is once again part of the “revolutionary” struggle against the thieving elite responsible for economic injustice. And as Hannah Arendt pointed out, anti-Semitic people’s movements have always attracted politicians.
Consider, for example, the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn unabashedly declares the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah his “dear friends,” and was accused of laying a wreath at the graves of the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Massacre during a visit to Tunisia in 2014 (although he has denied this). Anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement is currency within Corbyn’s Labour Party.
M5S, too, is steeped in ignorance and bitter clichés about the Middle East: In 2016, during Di Maio’s visit to Israel along with two other M5S members, MP Manlio Di Stefano and Senator Ornella Bertorotta, he fiercely insisted on visiting Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, a murderous terrorist organization.
Indeed, it seemed that Hamas and the jihadists in Gaza (invited as guests to the Foreign Affairs Committee by committee chief and M5S member Gianluca Ferrara) were the sole focus of his visit.
On his blog, Di Maio attacked Israel’s security fence as evidence of Israeli racism, as though it had nothing to do with preventing terrorist attacks. He concluded by writing that his government would certainly recognize a Palestinian state.
That M5S hasn’t so far moved to do so is arguably down to the fact that Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, a staunch friend of Israel who was until just a few days ago Italy’s security minister and deputy prime minister, prevented it from doing so. We shall see in the days to come whether the Democrats do the same.
In 2015, M5S invited BDS movement founder Omar Barghouti to address Italy’s Chamber of Deputies at the Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome. The BDS movement disguises an international struggle for Israel’s destruction as a pro-boycott campaign, together with a global network of NGOs linked to terrorism.
Indeed, M5S member Lorenzo Fioramonti, Italy’s new Education Minister, a “professor of political economy at the University of Pretoria,” is a militant BDS activist, according to Stefano Piazza of the Italian website Informazione Corretta.
Fioramonti abandoned a water conference in South Africa in 2016 because the Israeli ambassador was present. He wrote the following words a short time later: “Boycotting Israel is the key to helping the cause of a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East.”
Can the Democratic Party tolerate this individual as Italy’s education minister?
We can only hope that the PD is aware that the German Bundestag has outlawed the BDS movement, as have many other civilized countries.
The problem goes much deeper than support for BDS, however.
Members of M5S continually display ignorant and racist notions vis-à-vis Israel, portraying it as a “capitalist, imperialist oppressor.” This is how they see the Jewish state.
While in 2014 Israel was defending itself against rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip, M5S demanded a freeze on arms sales to Israel.
As journalist Giulio Meotti reported in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, in 2017 Livorno Mayor Filippo Nogarin, an M5S member, allowed protestors to hang a banner reading “Stop the genocide in Gaza, Israel is the real terrorist,” while another member of the City Council, also an M5S member, spoke publicly of an “Italian Jewish lobby.” The M5S mayoral candidate for Milan a few years back voted against the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Moreover, for whatever reason, M5S founding father Beppe Grillo seems to have formed a conception of Iran that doesn’t tally with reality. In Grillo’s Iran, people go peacefully about their lives, perfectly content with their government’s handling of the country’s finances. The woman is the center of the family, and while the death penalty exists, so what? The United States has it, too.
Regarding the Middle East, judging from available texts the situation is simple, as far as M5S is concerned: The United States and Israel are the common enemy, and the Palestinians are the victims, as is Iran.
Statements by M5S leaders and Middle Eastern militants are eerily similar: Israeli is a criminal state, the Palestinians are righteous victims, terrorists are freedom-fighters, and the BDS movement is totally legitimate.
As Iran moves to surround Israel to the north and south, extending its tentacles throughout the Middle East, and with terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip carrying out attacks against the Jewish state almost daily, it’s time to ask: How does PD leader Nicola Zingaretti intend to deal with this problem? Can he accept being part of an anti-Semitic, Iran-appeasing government?
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translated by Amy Rosenthal.