President Rivlin won’t meet Italian deputy PM on upcoming trip to Israel

President Rivlin will not meet with Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, who is scheduled to visit Israel this week. 

By World Israel News Staff

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has announced he won’t be meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is scheduled to visit Israel this Tuesday and Wednesday, spotlighting disagreement among Israeli politicians as how to best handle far-right, pro-Israel European politicians.

Rivlin’s office cited the president’s “tight schedule” for not meeting with Salvini, who also holds the post of Italy’s interior minister. But in a CNN interview Rivlin said, “You can’t say- we admire the State of Israel and want ties with it, but we’re neo-fascists.”

“Neo-fascism is completely opposed to the spirit, the principles and the values that the State of Israel was founded upon,” he added.

In another CNN interview, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to disagree with that sentiment, disputing the premise of a question about European leaders’ use of anti-Semitic imagery. “I don’t think they do,” Netanyahu said.

Matteo Salvini is the head of Italy’s far-right League Party (formerly Northern League). It joined as a minority partner in a coalition government with Five Star Movement Party led by Giuseppe Conte. But it’s Salvini who has emerged as the most prominent public face of the coalition.

Salvini has espoused consistently pro-Israel views, arguing that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. Visiting Israel in March 2016 before the Italian elections, he said, “Israel embodies the perfect balance of different realities, while ensuring law and order. It surely is a role model for security and anti-terrorism policies.”

In June, when Salvini became interior minister, one of his first public events was a party at the Israeli Embassy to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary. That month, he also expressed support for Israel when Argentina’s soccer team cancelled its friendly match in Jerusalem due to Arab threats.

However, Salvini has also paid homage to Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator through the 1920s and 1930s, who became Hitler’s ally.

Salvini has also pushed for a census of gypsies, earning him public criticism from the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), Italy’s major Jewish organization, which compared the proposal to Italy’s anti-Jewish race laws of the 1930s.

In July, Haaretz reported, UCEI President Noemi di Segni warned of “growing intolerance, racial hatred and radicalization” Although, di Segni didn’t criticize any specific party, Haaretz says the media interpreted his words as criticism of the new right-wing government.

UCEI, which Haaretz reports has been traditionally hesitant about taking a political stance, did so because of an uptick in anti-Semitism in the country.

“After the elections we noticed a surge in anti-Semitism, even though it’s mostly verbal and takes place online,” Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, chairman of the Jewish research center CDEC, said, according to Haaretz.

Haaretz notes that other Italian Jews support the League Party, such as Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian-Israeli journalist who served in Italy’s parliament under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“This government has its supporters inside the Jewish community – not so much the Five Star Movement, but the League does,” political historian David Bidussa told Haaretz. “Some Jews appreciate the League because they perceive it as being pro-Israel and anti-Islam. Not to mention that they share some skepticism of the European Union because of its criticism of Israel.”