Italian ambassador Nirensetin.
(photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
Last week’s announcement that Fiamma Nirenstein was being appointed Israeli ambassador to Italy made waves on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Nobody is better suited than Nirenstein for this role – particularly in the wake of the signing of the P5+1 agreement with Iran – due to her proven ability to create bipartisan support for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ought to be lauded for recognizing this fact and acting on it.
No wonder the Left is not pleased.
But because Nirenstein’s knowledge of international affairs and experience in the political/diplomatic sphere are as vast as they are solid, what the media came up with to cast aspersions on her appointment was to call her loyalty into question.
More specifically, it was to suggest that Italian Jews fear they will be accused of dual loyalty if Nirenstein takes up the post.
“Dual loyalty” is an anti-Semitic term applied to Diaspora Jews whose support for Israel is unwavering to the point of not being critical enough to satisfy detractors. The Obama administration is now insinuating this charge against any Jewish Americans who oppose the nuclear deal – as though Israel’s endangerment is the only hitch in the otherwise acceptable agreement, and the sole cause of a potential congressional rejection of it.
If Nirenstein were not the target of such vile tactics right now, she would be the perfect person to explain its roots and warn against its deeper meaning – something she has done throughout her career as a journalist, academic, author and politician. Indeed, during the many years of our close friendship and professional association, she has been a source of endless enlightenment about the resurgence of post-World War II anti-Semitism in Europe, global terrorism and the link between them.
To get a better grasp of who she is and what is behind the attempt to discredit her, a bit of background is in order.
She is the daughter of the late Aharon “Nir” Nirenstein, a Holocaust historian and long-time Al Hamishmar correspondent – who came to Palestine in 1936 from Poland, and went to Italy in 1945 with the British army’s Jewish Brigade – and Corriere della Sera journalist Wanda Lattes. Raised in a Zionist household, Nirenstein was an ardent communist in her youth. She describes that period as one in which she got caught up in the “mental corruption that caused my generation to attribute the world’s ills to capitalist imperialism.”
Her political shift began in the 1960s, in response to the radical climate that was enveloping Europe and America.
“You cannot run away from reality indefinitely,” Nirenstein said, in a 2007 interview I conducted with her for The Jerusalem Post. “Ultimately, you have to know what’s right in terms of values, and be courageous about standing up for them.”
The peg for the interview was one of her many best-selling books, Israele Siamo Noi – “Israel Is Us” – an appeal to Europeans to emulate Israeli democracy, and to understand, as she put it, that “Israel is the avant-garde of the West.”
Nirenstein ended up in Israel in the late 1980s, where she worked for the next 20 years as a foreign correspondent, dividing her time between Rome and her home in Jerusalem, with her Israeli husband, Ofer Eshed, a TV news videographer.
In 2008, she was elected to the Italian parliament under the government of Silvio Berlusconi, and served as the deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. When her term was up in 2013, she returned to Israel, this time as a new immigrant.
She has never concealed her passion for Israel, a country she says is “filled with heroes.” And human rights. And the ability to retain its democratic principles even while forced, repeatedly, to go to war. Conveying this message is precisely what an Israeli envoy abroad should be doing. One who speaks the language and knows the culture of the country to which he is dispatched makes such a mission even more effective.
The only thing remotely problematic about Nirenstein’s appointment, then, lies in the irony that her recent official immigration to Israel is accompanied by returning to Italy for the next few years. Now she will do so after relinquishing her Italian citizenship, however, as is required of Israeli diplomats born elsewhere.
If the Jewish community in Italy is worried about backlash from this move, it is not Nirenstein they should be countering, but rather the anti-Semitic climate that is causing their angst. In any case, she claims that reports of such hysteria are being widely exaggerated, judging by the massive amount of enthusiasm she has encountered – on the part of Italian Jews and non-Jews across the political and cultural spectrum – since the announcement of her appointment.
Indeed, it is the anti-Netanyahu Left, in both countries, whose voices are loudest and headlines most sensational. No surprise there. Merely another among a myriad of reasons to welcome the pick.
The writer is the web editor of Voice of Israel talk radio (voiceofisrael.com) and a columnist at Israel Hayom.