Giorgia Meloni’s Italy and Benyamin Netanyahu’s Israel enjoy great bilateral relations: since the coming to power of Brothers of Italy – Fratelli d’Italia’s (FdI) government in October 2022, mutual ties, State visits and diplomatic contacts at any level have significantly intensified. March saw indeed a series of events – Senate’s President Ignazio La Russa State visit to Israel on March 6, the Israeli PM visit to Rome on March 10, the diplomatic mission of Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani to Tel Aviv from March 12 to 14 – all meant to increase economic cooperation between the two countries with the aim of pushing for a “quantum leap” change in Israel-Italy relations, according to Netanyahu’s declarations at the Economic Forum in Tel Aviv with Italian enterprises as of March 2023.
The two conservative governments work in synch speeding up projects of joint strategic interest, such as Italy’s potential linking to the Eastmed Poseidon gas pipeline – a project initiated by IGI Poseidon, a company owned jointly by the Italian EDISON and the Greek DEPA – which could easily bring in the next future liquefied gas to the Apulia region in the South of Italy, but also plans of boosting up exchanges in military high-tech and trade in leading sectors such as security, renewable energies, digitalisation, agriculture and environmental transition, as witnessed by the participation of more than 50 among the Italian major companies (Eni, Enel, Fincantieri, Snam, Leonardo, Iveco, Thales Alenia, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Ferrovie dello Stato, Granarolo, Acea, Iren, Poste, Confagricoltura) in the abovementioned Tel Aviv Economic Forum. A strong alliance corroborated by the words of the Israeli Minister of Innovation Ofir Akunis hailing Italy as “one of the most influential State in Europe for Israel” at a Leonardo promotional stand in Tel Aviv.
Closeness to Israel was also expressed by Prime Minister Meloni without ambiguity since her swearing-in ceremony (October 2022), together with a clear choice for NATO and the staunch support to Ukraine. In line with that strategic orientation, on December 19 she welcomed the invitation to attend the Hannukah celebrations at the Jewish Museum in Rome in the presence of prominent Jewish-Roman community’s representatives, such as Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni and the Community’s Head Ruth Dureghello. During the ceremony Meloni was on the brink of tears in celebrating the “high example of resilience, faith and courage testified by the Jewish people notwithstanding the atrocities suffered by and the hateful racial laws imposed on it” in 1938.
Meloni’s aim in attending Hannukah’s ceremony was two-fold: beside expressing her emotional closeness to the Jewish community, she wanted to acknowledge the historical and testimonial value of the Jewish community’s defence of liberty and democracy, values from which the “enduring preservation of its collective identity” stems. Nonetheless, the specious reconciliation between Brothers of Italy (FDI), a party heavily indebted to the Italian Social Movement (MSI) – at its turn arisen from the ashes of the National Fascist Party after its banishment at the end of the Second World War – and the Italian Jewish community, targeted by the 1938 racial laws, has been the object of much debate, with many Italian Jews protesting its instrumental character.
In addition, Meloni’s speech was criticized for presenting the Jewish resistance during World War II as an example of loyalty and attachment to its ancestral traditions and thus a clear model of “opposition” to a so-called process of “forced identity-homogenisation”, but also for being the result of a late repentance, arrived well over time, that is after 30 out of 46 years of Meloni’s political career, spent in uncritically honouring the Fascist heritage of Mussolini bequeathed by Giorgio Almirante. Some voices in the Jewish community were raised against the excessive tolerance of the Jewish authorities, ready to validate even revisionist takes of Italian history prone to downsize Italian Fascism’ historical responsibilities towards the Jews in exchange of official recognition of the current Jewish membership in the Italian nation.
Next came the visit of Senate President’s Ignazio La Russa to Israel on March 6, exactly twenty years later the 2003 trailblazing travel to Jerusalem made by Gianfranco Fini, then Vicepresident of the Council of Ministers in the second Berlusconi government and Secretary of the National Alliance party (Alleanza Nazionale, AN), the forefather of the current party of the Brothers of Italy. Fini’s visit marked a watershed in Italian right-wing political culture.
He made it to Jerusalem some years later after solemnly rejecting the racial laws at the Fiuggi Party Congress in 1995: a symbolic gesture aimed at relieving the party from the heavy moral weight of the 1938 anti-Jewish racial laws in view of entering the government by entering the so-called “legitimacy area”. The “Fiuggi turn” was a major event taking place after the inclusion of the National Alliance in the first Berlusconi government in 1994: a breakthrough at the time not welcomed by a large majority of public opinion, which resented it as a heavy blow against the antifascist values cherished as a national bond and equally shared by all Republican parties. On April 25 of the same year (1995), in fact, a large part of public opinion against “normalization” with post-fascist parties took it to the street in one of the major demonstrations ever taking place on the celebrations of the Italian Resistance’ movement in WWII, gathering one million people in Milan to shield the antifascist ethical stance of the 1948 Italian Constitution.
Today FDI party emerged triumphant from the ballots with 26 percent of consensus and does no longer need to gain credit on the political scene, yet Senate’s President La Russa made his first official trip abroad to Israel – and not to Kiev – bestowing a symbolic priority to the Neofascist-Jewish political reconciliation. In Jerusalem, paying homage to God in front of the Wailing Wall, he condemned as customary the Shoah, branding it as the most “heinous crime” to be stamped out of history, but also seized the opportunity to reaffirm “Israel’s right to self-defence, its freedom and independence”.
The overall impression is that FDI distanced itself from the impartial stance in the Arab-Israeli or rather Israeli-Palestinian conflict Italy used to hold in the past, particularly since the stalemate of the Oslo Agreements and the inception of the Second Intifada in September 2000, remaining officially supportive of the “Two-States solution” but only formally pushing for the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties in international fora and no longer in bilateral ones. Israel is indeed deemed a trusted ally by the European conservative Right (and by the European Conservative party at the European Parliament) and the deepening of bilateral ties – in itself good news for both Israel and Europe – continued unhindered by the mass-scale pro-democracy and pro-Supreme Court demonstrations shaking the Jewish country in the last two months, since the last Netanyahu Government challenged the independency of the judiciary power with a major reform aiming at submitting it to the executive branch.
No FDI politicians or MP commented on the ongoing demonstrations, as the international legitimacy in democratic credentials gained by the party from siding with Israel pays off so well, that there are no more incentives for an Italian FDI-led government to raise the issue of Palestinian statehood or protest the occupation in the OPTs at any UN assembly or international context.
An harbinger of dynamics to come has already been visible on March 15, when the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen denied a visit from the EU High Representative of Foreign Relations, Josep Borrel, after his few critical remarks on the indiscriminate prosecution of settlement policy in the West Bank and on the balance among the State powers, branded by Cohen as “heavy meddling into internal affairs”, without meeting any comment or any official response by EU governments. If Visegrad countries – with the single exception of Poland and its own revisionism attempts of WWII history – are traditionally compliant with Israeli politics, and Germany, no matter what the government in power, is reluctant to air any criticism of Israel, the Baltic countries have aligned themselves with it lately (since 2018) for fear of the Russian Federation and with the aim of importing the highly-efficient Israeli practices of civil front’s protection. From 2022 on, it is likely that FDI-led Italy will be added up to this list, broadening the front of complicit EU member States.
Meloni already made this orientation clear in a 2020 TV-interview officially confirming her intention to “support loud and clear Israel’s right to defend itself without resorting to the duplicity of language adopted by leftist parties”, while, on the other hand Netanyahu, on his last visit to Rome, returned her the favour by frankly admitting to fear more the antisemitism coming from the extreme left which, “led by a violent hatred of Israel, and ready to side with jihadists and Islam fundamentalists violating human rights.”
In general, it is difficult not to notice how Israel and its policies have been the object of special caution in Europe and of a prospective heavily filtered and influenced by World War II events and dynamics. To define the special status enjoyed by Israel in European politics, Roberto Farneti coined the term “Israeli effect” to catch the disruptive and divisive impact any event, opinion or action carried out by or referring to Israel plays in European politics, given that acknowledging an historical responsibility in the Shoah is considered, now more than ever, the admission ticket to the EU membership club. In Farneti’s book (“Effetto Israele. La sinistra, la destra e il conflitto mediorientale”, 2015), the author writes that “the central role played by the Holocaust in a European identity speech sets a moral rule adopted by the EU Council in all association agreements signed with Israel in which antisemitism is spelled out as the main obstacle on the integration path of new EU potential member-States”.
Hence the race of all right-wing, nationalist, and xenophobic parties to part from the accuse of harbouring antisemitism within their constituencies by consolidating their ties with Israel by paying homage to symbolic memorial sites of the Holocaust such as Auschwitz or living sites of Jewish life as Jerusalem, as prominent Italian right-wingers as Gianfranco Fini, Ignazio La Russa and former mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno’s trips show. Farneti concludes that new Right-wing parties have moved ahead from fascism to embrace identity politics (playing out particularly on the pro-USA/pro-Russia cleavage), while the left-wing parties galaxy lacks behind in this regard, still positioning itself on the twentieth century left/right spectrum, claiming to represent the working divide between haves and have-nots without reflecting, though, that social base anymore (Farneti, Effetto Israele, Carocci, 2015: 47).
Ho incontrato il presidente della Knesset Amir Ohana. Siamo fermamente contro ogni forza terroristica che attenti alla libertà, alla esistenza ed alla indipendenza di Israele. Israele va tutelato nei suoi diritti. pic.twitter.com/JmLDUGSOQC
— Ignazio La Russa (@Ignazio_LaRussa) March 6, 2023
On the same line, the British historian Mark Mazower cynically portrays as easy for the extreme right nowadays to admit responsibility for the Shoah and express sincere or less repentance for the violent crimes perpetrated in WWII, because the Jews no longer constitute a threat in Europe, having found a land of their own (Israel) far away from Europe and do not live anymore in great percentages among Christian majorities. Mazower describes the WWII aftermath as a period through which “the moral stain tainting with its poison the European coexistence model has been removed and relocated elsewhere.”
Today Europe places itself in the comfortable position to look down on Israel still struggling with an unsolved territorial question dating back to the twentieth century to which it highly “contributed in a ethically irresponsible way, perfectly aware of the historical origin of the problem and preaching a model of multicultural coexistence from its own privileged status of a post-Hitler condition, that is in absence of identity conflicts in (the bulk of) continental Europe” (Mazower, M., Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century, 1999). In brief, Europe solved its challenge of national homogenisation by expelling the Jews and creating 11 million refugees after WWII, thus avoiding the dangerous option of multinational States, a handful of which only survive at its peripheries, such as in the Balkan, indeed again object of violent outbursts of inter-ethnic conflict in the 90s.
In accordance with Mazower’s view, but enriched by other considerations on the “natural convergence” between Israel and right-wing parties is the argument about the new European filo-semitism elaborated on by Israeli playwright and editorialist Yithzak Laor, who describes the principle of State-restructuring in the WWII aftermath as that of ”a national life revolving around a single language, people and territory”: a state-model equally cherished both by the European right-wing and Zionism with its idea of shaping a new Jew, the Tzabar. Laor critically observs that “Europeans, who beforehand used to distinguish and create a rift between themselves and the Jews as foreigners (…) can today profess their love to the Jews, who nowadays resemble them and no longer live among them”. He further claims that “the new Europe needs Antisemitism to celebrate the past, devote itself to tolerance of the similar Other to deflect attention from the pervasive hatred towards the new Other, that is Muslim fundamentalists.” In sum, Israel has been firmly included in the Western club as now the new identity cleavage marks the distance between Christian and Muslims, currently perceived as a “foreign body” and consequently targets of discrimination, particularly following their consistent immigration waves towards Europe in the last 30 years.
Beyond the contingent political convergences, there is a common thread bridging Israel, particularly in the last 30 years of Likud rule, and the European right-wing and populist parties: the categorical rejection of the multi-ethnic character of contemporary democratic societies. “The aspiration to separation, the human desire of remaining masters in their own place, jealous custodians of a known world with clear-cut boundaries” (Andriola, La nuova destra in Europa, 2014) reflects the principle of “ethno-differentialism (or ethno-pluralism)” sponsored by right-wing parties all over Europe and supportive of a model of tiny motherlands or a “Europe of patriots”, as FDI prefers to define it.
The revival of premodern, traditional, family-based, corporative, religious and local ties over cosmopolitan, loose and individual human relationships is a common point shared by extreme right-wing parties, bridging together the religious and nationalist extreme right of Israel, rejecting any link with European culture in the name of a presumed Jewish purity, with its European conservative and postfascist parties, envisioning a Europe of independent States or regions inhabited by cohesive and close communities, characterised by ethnic, spiritual and social homogeneity, and thus strenuous supporters of a strongly restrictive immigration policy. As stated by one of the most prominent thinker of the New European Right (NER), Guillaume Faye, author of Archeofuturism (1998), from which FdI also draws inspiration, “modernity has to be rejected in full as much as any conception of abstract human rights,” whereas national, regional and local communities of belonging should be revitalized by carrying out a revolution able to merge past and present, blend ancient values and future ones, that is the call to traditional values such as family, religion and honour with a strong dynamism, designed as the ability to shape the future with independence, creativity and power.
A similar message has been conveyed in the “New Right of the year 2000” manifest written by Alain de Benoist – maybe the most famous ideologue of the new right-wing parties’ need to overcome the twentieth century binary difference between left and right – together with his disciple Charles Champetier, in which the two authors contest the process of “individualism rising from the ashes of the destruction of ancient civilizations and the adoption on a mass-scale of standardized behaviours and lifestyles, the desacralization of the world through the collapse of great religious teachings and traditions replaced by a dogmatic interpretation of science.”
The new right frees itself from Fascism by pledging a mix of social conservatism, critical of excessive individual liberties enjoyed by minorities, mainly LGBTQIA+, and an overall reject of the globalization process, which pleases the Israeli right too, supportive of the principle of Jewish exclusivity and an ethnonationalist model, and interested in keeping on good terms with European governments, at their turn kept in check by the constant threat of antisemitism. The “marriage of convenience” of the two countries – Italy and Israel – is thus projected to prosper in the long term, but with a few collateral effects, such as forgoing on its way a correct take of WWII history, object of continuous and undeterred attempts to be rewritten by the current Italian government, and the Jewish diaspora, generally associated to the upholding of those same democratic and antifascist values enshrined in the Constitution from which the State of Israel is gradually growing apart.
As already forecast in the questionable assertions of both Meloni and La Russa on the Nazi massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine on March 24, 1944, it is highly probable that April 2023 will be a period of heightened tensions and political clashes between the Right, the Left and the Jewish community, with the Government resorting to any means to downsize the influence of memorial events of Italy’s liberation from Fascism taking place all over the country: the Meloni Government, in fact, would opt for the adoption of an official rhetoric paying homage to history while slowly trying to rehabilitate the heritage of her party ancestors by more or less brazen historical revisionist attempts.
However, it is undeniable that time works in the government’s favour, as after April 25, the public debate will fade out and the restored quietness thereafter will chip away at antifascism progressively as a social and moral bond, as over time, the memory of WWII in living generations erodes with the last witnesses and partisans passing away. Contrary to WWII collective memory, the Shoah commemorations will stay engraved as memorial events in the official calendar throughout Europe, but with no much emotional attachment, as the Shoah is posed as the emblem of absolute evil but unable, deprived of its historical knowledge and context, to act as a ultimate warning to the recurrence of those same xenophobic and racist ideas and policies they were meant to stamp out both in Europe and in Israel. This is happening again because, as Laor summarizes, the Shoah memory’s celebration is no longer meant to “remind (people) of the possibility of genocide, but to sow the seed of a new ideology of (political) exclusion.”
Cover Photo: Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose during a joint press conference following their meeting on March 10, 2023 at Palazzo Chigi in Rome (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP.)
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