Italian parties will use EU elections to prove their strength

For the past year, the country has been ruled by a coalition between the Five Star Movement, a populist party that rejects traditional political labels, and the populist far-right party League.

May 22, 2019 19:06
2 minute read.
The Italian flag waves over the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy May 30, 2018

The Italian flag waves over the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy May 30, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/TONY GENTILE)


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Ahead of the European elections, Italians are witnessing a ruthless campaign. For the past year, the country has been ruled by an unprecedented coalition between the Five Star Movement, a populist party that rejects traditional political labels, and the populist far Right party, League (formerly Northern League).

In the national elections on March 4, 2018, the Five Star won 32% of the vote and the League won 17%. But very quickly, the polls started showing an overturning of the support from Italian voters, with the League polling more than 30% and even 35%, and the Movement plummeting under 25%.

Now both parties aim to prove their strength to their allies, the opposition and the Italian people.

Unlike in America, the political affiliation of European Jews is very rarely polled.

In Italy, the latest available data dates back to a survey published in 2013. When asked which political faction offered better guarantees to Jews in Italy, 39% of the respondents said Right or Center-Right, 15% said Left or Center-Left, 7% responded Center, 25% none of the above and 13% “everyone is the same.”

In a similar question about which party is best for Israel, 60% of respondents said Right and only 7% chose Left.

Although the survey was conducted before the Five Star Movement emerged as a political force, experience suggests that the sentiment among Italian Jews might not have changed much: after years of declarations that employed both antisemitic and anti-Zionist tropes, the Five Star does not seem to have gathered much consensus in the community, in spite of the attempt of current leaders to show their support.

The Italian Jewish community, which is around 25,000 members mostly living in Rome and Milan, maintains very close ties to the Italian authorities.

For at least the past 10 years, Italian governments have generally been very attentive to the needs of the Jewish community, regardless of their political color.

The current prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has visited the synagogue of Rome twice in 2019, calling antisemitism “suicide for the European man” on both occasions. A project to translate the Talmud into Italian has been publicly funded with several million euros. Police or army cars are stationed continuously in front of Jewish sites to protect their security.

However, for many Italian Jews, even for some of those who tend to identify as right-wing, a grave predicament is represented by the positions of the League’s incendiary leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

On the one hand, he and his party often embody a populist, quasi-fascist, anti-immigration attitude that they abhor, or they are at least uncomfortable with. On the other hand, Salvini has shown steadfast support for Israel, including a very stern position toward Iran, not so common from political leaders in the European Union, which was a major sponsor of the 2015 nuclear deal.

According to a Politico poll, the League is expected to send a contingent of 25 representatives to Strasbourg, giving a significant contribution to the Euro-skeptic camp that all across the continent is promising to tear the European Union down, at least in the current form.

The question of how the League will play its role in Europe, where it is going to be a primary force within an alliance that will probably feature parties even more open about their antisemitic feelings, will likely only make the conundrum of many Italian Jews deeper.

Rossella Tercatin is originally from Italy.

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