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(photo credit: AP)
Paradoxically, a gesture of symbolic violence against Israel by the extreme Left has galvanized Italian political forces and public opinion in Israel's defense.
Three cloth mannequins draped with an Israeli, a US and an Italian flag were publicly set on fire in front of Rome's central monument to the Unknown Soldier on Saturday, while a chorus of "10, 100, 1000 Nassariyahs" (referring to an Iraqi suicide attack in which Italian soldiers were killed) were chanted. Public outrage over this profanation of Italian patriotic feelings and pathos for the young volunteers who had paid with their lives was extended to the US and Israeli effigies, linking them in public perception against extremism.
The rally, attended by about 20,000 and organized by the small Communist party (PDCI) together with the Forum for Palestine and the extreme Left's social youth movement, took place in Rome simultaneously with a much larger and more mainstream demonstration in Milan for "Two Peoples, Two States." All coalition parties, represented by their political leaders (including Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the "Re-established Communist Party" and Speaker of the Senate), major Italian NGOs and unions participated in the Milan event whose turnout was estimated at 50,000.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi has called to task the Communist leader Oliviero Diliberto for having attended the Rome rally while fully aware of the extremist elements attached to his parade.
Diliberto, a long-time sympathizer and friend of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, marched up to Piazza Venezia but left in protest when masked and keffiyeh-wearing Palestinian Forum participants began the bonfire. The Israeli mannequin's helmet was marked "Nazi-Zionism."
"They are harming the Palestinian cause," Diliberto later exclaimed, but his excuses did not prevent the prime minister from deprecating his "last minute disassociation" and accusing him of "playing populist games."
"One simply must not participate in certain rallies," Prodi admonished.
The parliamentary opposition has demanded an account of this incident and the Court of Rome has launched an investigation.
The larger demonstration in Milan expressed majority Italian opinion in favor of peace and a two-state solution, yet nonetheless it did not receive unanimous approval from friends of Israel or the Jewish community.
Three parliamentarians of the Democratic Left party - including Furio Colombo, the former editor of L'Unit , and Emanuele Fiano, son of Holocaust survivor Nello Fiano - published a statement explaining the reasons for their abstention. Among these was an appeal by some organizing parties for terminating Italy-Israel military cooperation, and also governmental insensitivity to Israel's defense needs.
The emotional climate was such that one lone Israeli flag bearer amidst a sea of Palestinian flags had to be escorted by nine policemen, all concerned for his safety.
However, comments on the day's events were focussed mainly on Rome.
Renzo Gattegna, president of the Italian Jewish community, pointed out that the outburst of violence was "the natural consequence of unbalanced and biased politics" and noted the existing incompatibility of parties within the coalition, especially in view of Italy's aspirations to be a neutral leader of the military forces in Lebanon.
But at the end of the day, after members of the Center-Left parliamentary majority and of course, the opposition, one after another, had stated their indignation regarding the Rome events and their solidarity with Israel, a positive spirit was restored.
Sunday evening, an audience of over 2,000 people attended a concert entitled "A Bridge between Italy and Israel" in honor of Israel's newly arrived ambassador to Italy, Gideon Meir. They were ecstatic over the performances of David D'Or, Orit Gabriel, Peppino di Capri, Angelo Branduardi and Rafi Kadishson, director of the Nova Amadeus orchestra at the Santa Cecilia Concert Hall.
Italian anchorwoman Marta Flavi repeatedly communicated her love for Israel and the Jewish people.
Ambassador Meir concluded that culture was a potent antidote to extremism, ignorance and hate.
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