‘Cry for Shoah, show pain for Cast Lead’
Italian PM's link threatens to tarnish visit that has cemented warm Israel ties.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, center, Photo: AP
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lashed out at the Goldstone Report on Wednesday during a special session of the Knesset held to welcome the Italian leader, saying that the report tried to “incriminate Israel for its legitimate response” to rocket attacks from Gaza.
In the course of his address to the Knesset, Berlusconi expressed hope that Israel and the Palestinians would soon resume peace talks, but blasted Iran, telling MKs that the world “cannot accept” a nuclear-armed Iran and defended the Jewish state’s much-criticized war against Hamas in Gaza last year.
From the podium of the Knesset, Berlusconi called on the international community to pursue stronger sanctions against Teheran, which Italy, like Israel, suspects is developing nuclear weapons.
“We cannot accept the nuclearization of a country whose leaders have explicitly expressed their desire to destroy Israel, have denied the Holocaust and delegitimized the Jewish state,” Berlusconi said, in remarks translated into Hebrew simultaneously.
“We cannot make compromises,” he said. “The path that must be taken is multilateral oversight, negotiations and sanctions” against Iran.
Berlusconi has repeatedly criticized the Islamic Republic during his three-day visit to Israel. On Tuesday, he announced that Italy had cut business ties with Iran by a third since 2007, noting that Italian energy giant ENI had decided not to extend an existing contract to develop an important oil field in Iran.
Speaking before Berlusconi, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin complimented Berlusconi on his ambition to include Israel in the European Union, but emphasized that “Italy, as a state that borders the Mediterranean and is located within the range of the nuclear rockets, has more urgent and essential mission for us, the Israelis: to awaken Europe from its coma, to present before Europe the threat in its full severity; to reveal the Satanic, monstrous and dangerous foundations located at the base of the Teheran regime’s infrastructure. To warn Italy’s European neighbors that time is running out, and that the time has come to exchange words for actions.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) also welcomed Italy’s continued support of Israel. “When Israel is facing difficult times, it sees those who remain silent, ignore, or criticize – as well as those who are doing the right thing without hesitation or vacillation, and you are one of the few who has expressed, in a clear and strong voice, the deep cooperation between Italy and Israel.”
Berlusconi’s speech before lawmakers, an honor bestowed on few world leaders, was a sign of the friendship between the two nations that has grown much closer under his stewardship.
The Italian leader drew a warm round of applause when he declared: “We, the free and liberal people across the world, thank you (Israel) for your very existence.”
Before Berlusconi spoke, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed him “as a courageous leader who always stands by Israel’s side.”
He concluded a speech filled with praise for Berlusconi with a story of a heavily pregnant Italian woman who confronted a German officer during World War II and, at great peril to her own life, persuaded him to let an arrested Jewish woman go.
This woman’s actions “saved the life of the Jewish woman and cast, if only for a brief moment, a scintilla of humanity and courage upon the great darkness that enveloped the whole of Europe at that time,” Netanyahu said.
“That courageous woman’s name was Rosa. And one of her children is called Silvio Berlusconi, today the prime minister of Italy,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu concluded his remarks by telling Berlusconi that, “We appreciate you. We embrace you. We love you.”
The two men embraced, and the Italian leader took out a white handkerchief to wipe tears from his eyes.
Wednesday marked the second anniversary of Rosa Bossi Berlusconi’s death.
Later Wednesday, the Italian premier attended a luncheon that President Shimon Peres hosted in his honor at Beit Hanassi.
Berlusconi was charmed by singer Rita’s electric yet saucily audacious rendition of “Chi Vuol la Zingerella” from Giovanni Paisiello’s opera Zingari in Fera. He sat entranced, with his chin cupped in his hand, and a broad smile lighting his face as he listened. “Bravo!” he said loudly when Rita was introduced to him after the performance, and kissed her on both cheeks.
The dapper looking Berlusconi came in for lots of applause during the day. After earning much acclamation in the Knesset in the morning, Berlusconi was greeted with great enthusiasm as he entered Beit Hanassi and subsequently came in for additional accolades from Peres and from the distinguished gathering of government ministers, parliamentarians, diplomats, judiciary and other dignitaries who had been invited to the luncheon.
Peres, in praising Berlusconi’s address to the Knesset, which he described as “warm, noble courageous and visionary” said “on such a stormy day outside you brought warmth to the State of Israel which loves Italy and loves Italians.”
Referring to his Knesset address, Berlusconi said that it was the first time that he had read from a prepared speech. As a rule, he is a spontaneous speaker, “but this time I wanted to weigh every word to ensure that the people of Israel would understand how much I and Italy care about Israel. We love Israel and the Jewish people, regardless of political affiliation.”
Berlusconi related how he felt for Israel and particularly for Italian dual-nationals with Israeli citizenship during terrorist attacks.
From Beit Hanassi Berlusconi proceeded to meetings with leaders of the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had given him a lot of ideas with regard to these meetings, Berlusconi revealed, adding that he had also spoken to former prime minister Ehud Olmert and to Quartet envoy Tony Blair.
As had been his policy in the past said Berlusconi, he would encourage economic development in the Palestinian Authority, this time with a view to aiding the resumption of peace negotiations.
Speaking in Bethlehem, Berlusconi said, “just as it’s right to cry for the victims of the Shoah, it’s right to show pain for what happened in Gaza.”
Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.