Netanyahu sparks backlash by hailing Italy's far-right Salvini as 'great friend of Israel' during two-day trip

Italy’s divisive interior minister reiterated his support for Israel in whirlwind visit to country, sparking backlash from critics of Benjamin Netanyahu’s courting of far-right figures

Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (C) gestures after signing the guest book during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem,
Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (C) gestures after signing the guest book during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem,

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Italy’s divisive interior minister as a “great friend of Israel” during a two-day visit to the country, drawing a backlash from his critics concerned by the Italian politician’s far-right and anti-migration policies.

Matteo Salvini, who is best known for bashing the European Union and cracking down on African and Arab asylum-seekers, began his whirlwind tour with a trip to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. There the Israeli army has uncovered tunnels it says were built by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for attacks.

Mr Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League Party, immediately sparked criticism back home by calling Hezbollah a “terrorist” group in comments supporting Israel.

Italy is usually highly cautious over labelling Hezbollah, fearing it could endanger Italian forces operating in Lebanon as part of the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL. The European Union lists Hezbollah’s military wing as “terrorist”.

Mr Salvini also faced anger from Israelis during an evening tour of Jerusalem on Tuesday where he was assailed by protesters shouting: “Fascist, we do not want you here.”

“I call terrorists what they are, which is terrorists,” Mr Salvini said, brushing off his critics.

“I smile when I hear criticism from the left in Italy and in Israel … [they] will have to get over it.”

He concluded by slamming the European Union for not supporting Israel enough, saying: “Whoever wants peace, needs to support Israel.”

After Wednesday work meetings and a trip to Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Mr Salvini was welcomed by Mr Netanyahu who thanked him for being ”a great friend” to the country.

The Israeli premier has welcomed several controversial world leaders this year including Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, both of who have been accused of being antisemitic in the past.

Critics hit back at Mr Netanyahu’s warm reception of the Italian figure on Wednesday, saying it was part of a worrying trend of the premier courting divisive figures, who were able to “whitewash” unsavoury reputations with a trip to Israel.

Anshel Pfeffer, a commentator and expert on Mr Netanyahu, wrote in Haaretz newspaper: “It is clear what they come for on the political level. Politicians who are historically tainted with their party’s past associations with fascist and neo-Nazi roots can get Israel’s kashrut stamp by visiting the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial” – “kashrut” meaning kosher.

Whoever wants peace, needs to support Israel

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister 

Sefy Hendler, in the same publication, argued that Mr Salvini should be “persona non grata” in Israel for his support of fascism and the late Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Back in Italy Mr Salvini’s remarks have frequently drawn outrage from the Italian Jewish community who urged him to use his trip to Israel to condemn antisemitism.

In an open letter, a group of prominent Italian Jews expressed concern over Mr Salvini’s visit, according to the Times of Israel. The letter urged him to firmly condemn “antisemitic acts, oblivion, and trivialisation of the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s by movements and parties belonging to the ethno-nationalistic far right in Italy and Europe” during his stay.

Over the summer, Mr Salvini came under fire from Jewish groups for saying he was considering abolishing an anti-racism law, and the Jewish Union in Italy has also condemned Mr Salvini over his announcement that he would conduct a census of Roma in Italy, saying he was awakening memories of racial hatred and fascist tendencies during the Second World War.

During his whirlwind trip, Mr Salvini held meetings with Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan and tourism minister Yariv Levin. He also visited the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and held a work meeting with Mr Netanyahu.

He did not travel to the Palestinian territories or meet any Palestinian leaders.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in