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June 07, 2024
Social Justice

Imminent European elections: the power of Israel in Italy

Insight by Dalia Ismail

In recent years, multiple sources of independent research have highlighted the connections between Israeli pressure groups and European institutions, raising serious concerns about the decision-making process and foreign policy of the European Union. In 2016, the report "The Israel Lobby and the European Union," the result of meticulous research made by the independent organization Public Interest Investigations/Spinwatch and published by EuroPal Forum, an independent network of NGOs advocating for Palestinian human rights based in London, detailed the influence of pro-Israel lobbies within the EU. This document pointed out how these lobbies, associations that exert pressure and influence to promote Israel's interests in various fields—political, media, military, academic, and others—have gained considerable authority over the Union's decision-making processes, consolidating Israel's position as a significant partner and undermining the support for the Palestinian cause.

Moreover, the report revealed the involvement of American entrepreneurs Sheldon Adelson, Larry Hochberg, Nina Rosenwald, Daniel Pipes, Roger Hertog, Bernard Marcus, Irving Moskowitz, Newton and Rochelle Becker, in European lobbies. These individuals are also implicated in pro-Israel lobbies in the United States and have been shown to regularly support organizations engaged in the occupation of Palestine and in the dissemination of anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic propaganda.

 According to the report, these businesspeople have financed numerous media and political campaigns to criminalize Hamas and Hezbollah and to promote the view of Iran as an “imminent threat to Israel and the West.”

These elements underline the essential need for a rigorous critical analysis of European parties' positions on Israel, the Palestinian cause, and the rights of Arab and Islamic communities in Europe. 

"The influence of the Israel lobby in the U.S. has been pretty well-documented by now. We saw recently, for example, that most of the contenders in the presidential race felt that they had to attend a big conference of AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel group in Washington. By contrast, the Israel lobby in Europe has received very little scrutiny. This is despite how it has grown considerably over the past decade or so”, stated David Cronin, co-author of the report, to Middle East Eye. 

In an article for Orient XXI magazine, Political scientist Grégory Mauzé cites a source within the European Parliament who stated that Israeli lobbies receive privileged treatment compared to representatives of other national interests.

In Italy, the influence of pro-Israel lobbies is particularly evident, as seen, for example, in the statement by Roberto Sergio, CEO of Rai, written and read live by Mara Venier following the protest of the Israeli ambassador in Italy, Alon Bar, who was annoyed by the phrase expressed by Ghali on the Sanremo stage, where he called to stop the genocide. 

However, institutional politics continue to ignore the issue, thereby fueling a status quo of repression, intimidation, violence, and silence.

Recent events, such as the episodes of aggression experienced by activist Karem Rohana and Chef Rubio, the verbal, physical, and sexist assault by the so called Jewish Brigade at the pro-Palestinian march on April 25 in Rome, the violent repression of students protesting for Palestine, and the threats by Riccardo Pacifici, former president of the Jewish community of Rome, to professors Alessandro Orsini and Angelo D'Orsi, highlight the dangers faced by those who openly denounce Israel and its criminal policy, recognized as such even by the International Criminal Court. The lack of a clear and strong condemnation by Italian political parties reveals the power of these lobbies and the fear they likely instill. Indeed, no party has spoken out decisively against the violent actions of pro-Zionist Italian groups, avoiding explicitly recognizing their Zionist nature, a nationalist and supremacist ideology identified by the United Nations as a form of racism and racial discrimination in 1975.

It is clear, reading the programs and statements of the parties, that Italian politics is extremely cautious in condemning Israel; the term "genocide" is rarely used, and there is hesitation to recognize Israeli settler colonialism, a form of colonization where settlers from one country move into a territory and establish permanent communities at the expense of the indigenous population, over whom political, economic, and territorial control is exercised, and the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance. This attitude suggests strong pressure in Italy from specific groups, accompanied by self-censorship to avoid negative consequences, as happened with Jeremy Corbyn's suspension from the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.

Historical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and the turning point with Berlusconi

In 2017, in a historical and political analysis of the relationship between Italy and Palestine, journalists Romana Rubeo and Ramzy Baroud argue that Italy was historically the primary European supporter of the Palestinian struggle. During the "First Republic" (1948-1992), Italy held a significant position in international politics, managing to fulfill its commitments with the NATO while simultaneously cultivating relations with Arab countries. However, in recent decades, there has been a shift towards pro-Israel positions.

This change in stance is attributed to Berlusconi's government and his close alliance with the United States, as well as his desire to gain legitimacy from the Italian Jewish community in order to present himself as a modern European right-wing party, writes professor Arturo Marzano for the academic journal Israel Studies. The rapprochement with Israel was perceived as a sign of reliability and stability, capable of attracting the favor of important sectors of Italian society and consolidating relations with the United States. This strategic move allowed Berlusconi to present himself as a pro-American leader and defender of Western values.

Furthermore, the exponential growth of Islamophobia in civil society, following September 11, also contributed to pushing the government towards a position closer to Israel, seen as an ally in the Western battle against "Islamic fundamentalism."

This shift, as well as the prominent position of pro-Zionist Jewish communities in Italian politics, was also highlighted in 2008 by former President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga, who accused Italy, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, of having "betrayed" Italian Jews, referring to the alleged "Lodo Moro," a secret, never-confirmed deal between Italy and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in which Italy allowed Palestinian militias to transit through Italian territory with weapons and explosives, in exchange for a guarantee that they would not carry out attacks in Italy, and erroneously attributing the 1980 Bologna Massacre to the PFLP

In the last twenty-three years, there has been a radical change in Italian politics, with greater alignment with Israel, leading to a reduction in tensions with both Israel and the United States.

A matter of political mediocrity

The lack of a clear and forward-looking position on the Palestinian issue and the condemnation of the October 7 attack as a prelude to criticizing Israel must be contextualized within a broader framework of political mediocrity, typical of a post-ideological era where parties and politics lack broad visions of the world. This shift is also clearly reflected in the dynamics of Italian foreign policy. 

In the past, leaders like Sandro Pertini expressed their views on the Palestinian question based on a well-defined worldview, often independent of external influences. However, today we observe a greater influence of U.S. interests on Italian foreign policy, with a consequent lack of independent and forward-thinking visions. This transformation reflects a loss of visionary leadership and an increasing dependence on global geopolitical dynamics.

Euphemisms to cushion criticism of Israel

The institutional left-wing parties running for the European elections, such as “Alleanza Verdi Sinistra”, “Pace Terra Dignità,” as well as the “Movimento 5 Stelle,” stand out for their firm condemnation of Israel's actions. Among the proposals is the call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and an end to the violent repression in the Occupied West Bank through economic and diplomatic pressure.

However, the approaches vary. Some use a more explicit condemnation of the October 7 events, while others focus on the recognition of Palestine. In any case, there seems to be a tendency to carefully weigh the words used, for fear of excessive exposure.

The "Pace Terra Dignità '' party openly opposes Israel and, unlike the others, focuses on the right of Palestinians to return to their lands and homes, the release of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails, and proposes the one-state solution. In introducing its position, it calls on Europe to condemn the October 7 attack and to support the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.

Alleanza Verdi Sinistra, on the other hand, opts for the traditional two-state solution and calls for the recognition of a Palestinian state, delineated by the 1967 borders. Nicola Fratoianni has also publicly supported the mobilizations for the boycott of Israel in universities. However, on his Instagram profile, he slightly distorted the demands of the student Intifada, stating that it calls for an end to complicity with Netanyahu in particular.

Student protests, as expressed in the statement by the Young Palestinians of Italy, a militant pro-Palestine movement, actually call for an end to complicity with Israel and its settler colonialism, which continues even without Netanyahu. 

Despite mentioning the Nakba, the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by Israel in 1948, which marks the official beginning of the Palestinian cause, and implicitly recognizing the oppressor-oppressed relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, his criticism focuses primarily on the current Israeli ultra-right government.

Premises like those seem designed to avoid negative consequences. However, this approach contributes to maintaining the status quo of repression, intimidation, and violence against those who express and fight for the liberation of Palestine. This perpetuates a historical situation in which those who wish to enter the institutions must speak about Palestine in a certain way, while those who do not accept this compromise risk being excluded from certain circles.

Internal pressure within political parties

During the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2021, the Young Democrats, PD’s youth group, of Milan publicly dissociated themselves from the position of the Democratic Party, expressing condemnation towards Israel.

This year, Daniele Nahum, a former PD politician and former president of the Union of Young Jews of Italy, described an initiative organized by the Young Democrats of Milan titled "Colonialism and Apartheid in Palestine" as "uncommentable". Nahum exerted pressure to prevent the event from taking place in any PD venue or circle, succeeding in doing so.

On March 11, 2024, Nahum announced his withdrawal from the party precisely because of the use of the term "genocide" by some members to describe Israel's actions. These facts suggest that, despite its small size compared to other communities in Milan, the Jewish community has significant influence within political parties.

Naming violence to fight it

Condemning violence, when it occurs, without defining its Zionist matrix, which is a supremacist and racist ideology, has a very specific purpose. If the violence of Zionisim and the groups that put it into practice are not recognized, it will never be possible to address and combat it. It is necessary for institutions and politics to clearly speak out against Zionist groups in order to put an end to the current repression and fear of consequences when speaking out, denouncing, and taking a stand. As Giovanni Falcone said about the mafia: "We must realize that it is a terribly serious and very grave phenomenon; and that it can be defeated not by demanding heroism from unarmed citizens, but by engaging all the best forces of the institutions in this battle."

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