Italy’s Salvini, accused of insensitivity to antisemitism, combats it

The Italian opposition leader lamented: “We have an EU that denies its Judeo-Christian roots and labels Israeli products, a UN that in 2018 condemned Israel with 18 resolutions."

Dore Gold speaking at event combatting antisemitism.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dore Gold speaking at event combatting antisemitism.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Italian opposition leader Matteo Salvini held an event on combating antisemitism at the Senate in Rome on Thursday, two months after opposing the formation of a parliamentary committee to fight hatred of Jews and others.
“The antisemitism of a certain traditional part of the Right and a certain part of the Left is our enemy,” Salvini said. “We are duty bound to combat those who say the Jews are the Nazis of today. There are those who think that within [the] Islamic world but also within certain parts of Europe.”
Salvini called on Italy to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. He also said he plans to propose the criminalization of antisemitic hate speech, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold recounted.
“I think antisemitism in Europe really bothers [Salvini] and he wants to take action on this subject,” Gold said. “It seems he is thinking of taking far stronger action on antisemitism than many of his European counterparts.”
The move comes in contrast to his position late last year, when his right wing League Party abstained in a vote on forming a parliamentary committee to fight hate, racism and antisemitism on grounds of free speech.
In November, Liliana Segre, an Auschwitz survivor and Italian senator-for-life, revealed that she receives hundreds of antisemitic attacks on social media a day and a police security detail was assigned to protect her. This came at a time of increased attention in Italy to antisemitism and racism, especially from soccer fans.
Segre submitted a motion to create the committee to fight hate, racism and antisemitism, which passed – but Italian right-wing parties abstained.
Following an uproar over the vote, Salvini, a Euroskeptic and immigration hawk, said he saw Segre’s motion as a way to limit free speech and censor “the right to say ‘Italians first.’” He said that he, too, is the target of many threats on social media.
But Salvini also said contemporary antisemites are “mentally ill,” and that he is not minimizing the problem.
This week, he held his event titled “The New Forms of Antisemitism,” featuring remarks by Ambassador to Italy Dror Eydar, Gold, British intellectual Douglas Murray, and President of the Italian Senate Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, among others.
Gold said after the event that it was an “important meeting,” because “Salvini as a national figure in Italy taking on antisemitism is a big deal.”
“He sets a tone now for conservative politics across Europe. That is something I hope others imitate,” he added.
Gold recounted that when he was director-general of the Foreign Ministry, there were constant deliberations about Israeli relations with far Right parties in Europe like the League.
“What I feel is that when somebody shows friendship for our most fundamental interests, we have to reciprocate,” he stated. “When I got the request to come to Salvini’s seminar, I immediately said yes. I think that will help promote more sympathetic views of Israel and our most important interests in future contacts with Europe.
“Imagine if he goes out on a limb and no one from Israel comes. That would be terrible,” Gold said.
Similarly, Eydar said it is important to Israel that as many countries as possible adopt the IHRA definition and he went to encourage it.
Salvini and Eydar tied anti-Israel sentiment to antisemitism in their addresses, a theme found in the IHRA definition, which includes comparing Israel to Nazis or denying Jews self-determination, among other examples.
“Those who want to wipe out Israel have us as opponents, now and always,” Salvini stated. “Those who want it to be destroyed are antisemitic and should be challenged.”
The Italian opposition leader lamented: “We have an EU that denies its Judeo-Christian roots and labels Israeli products, a UN that in 2018 condemned Israel with 18 resolutions but did not adopt even one against Iran.”
Eydar said the Jewish people “cannot exist without a political and a sovereign center, our homeland.”
“The State of Israel is the insurance policy of all Jews in the world. Anti-Zionism means to oppose our full existence. Anyone who opposes the existence of the Jewish state is antisemitic,” he said.
In his remarks at the event, Gold gave an overview of antisemitism from antiquity, through the Middle Ages and modern times.
“Today its form is changing again. Anyone with eyes in his head can see that in recent years there has been a veritable explosion in the number of antisemitic incidents … in the heart of Western civilization,” he said.
Gold called to combat antisemitism from the “Red-Green Alliance,” including Iranian influence around the world. He also pointed to connections between European NGOs and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, recognized as a terrorist organization in Europe.