A proposed law awaiting consideration by the Italian parliament is set to punish those calling for a boycott of Israel. In the past, such an initiative would have been unthinkable. Alas, Italy — a country with historic sympathies for the Palestinian cause — has shifted its politics in a dramatic way in recent years. Most surprisingly, though, is that the Left is as implicated as the Right in the rush to please Israel, at the expense of Palestinian rights.
The sad reality is that Italy is moving into the Israeli camp. This is not only pertinent to political alignment, but in the reconfiguration of discourse as well. Israeli priorities, as articulated in Zionist hasbara (official propaganda) have now become part of the everyday lexicon of Italian media and politics. As a result, the Zionist agenda is now Italy’s political agenda too.
Italy’s anti-Fascist, anti-military occupation and revolutionary past is being overlooked by self-serving politicians, who are susceptible ever more frequently to the pressures of a burgeoning pro-Israel lobby.
During the so-called “First Republic” (1948 to 1992), Italy was considered to be the West European country most sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle, not only because of a widespread feeling of solidarity among Italians, but also because of the political environment at the time. Italian leaders were perfectly aware of the country’s unique position in the Mediterranean zone. While they were keen to display loyalty to the Atlantic Alliance, they also established good relations with the Arab world. Maintaining this balance was not always easy and led to what are being perceived as “radical choices”, which are now being disowned and criticised.
The pro-Israel trend has been in motion for years. In a famous interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in 2008, former Italian President Francesco Cossiga declared, “Dear Italian Jews, we sold you out.”
Cossiga was referring to the so-called “Lodo Moro”, an unofficial agreement which was allegedly signed in the 1970s by the then Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and the leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The deal supposedly allowed the Palestinian group to coordinate its actions throughout Italian territory, in exchange for it keeping Italy of its operational target list. The “Lodo Moro” is often used in Israeli hasbara to highlight Italy’s supposed failures in the past, and to continue associating Palestinians with terrorism.
In his interview, Cossiga went further, blaming the PFLP for the Bologna terrorist bombing and massacre, which devastated the city’s main railway station in 1980, killing 85 people. Cossiga’s words may have pleased Israel, but were baseless. The attack was actually the work of an Italian neo-fascist organisation. Unfortunately, his nonsensical allegation was not an isolated example; it remains representative of the general change of attitude towards Palestine and Israel, one that is largely predicated on re-writing history.
Then and now
In 1974, the Italian government advocated for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s participation in the UN General Assembly. In 1980, it committed to the EEC Declaration of Venice, which recognised the Palestinian “right to self-determination”. As expected, this was strongly opposed by Israel and the US.
Throughout the 1980s, the attitude of successive Italian governments was openly pro-Palestinian, which often led to foreign policy clashes with Israel and its American benefactors, especially during the so-called Crisis of Sigonella in 1985. During a speech at the Italian parliament, socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi went as far as defending the Palestinian right to armed struggle. In 1982, the Italian President Sandro Pertini used his traditional end of year address to the nation to talk at length about the horror of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinian refugees.
While centre-left political forces supported Palestine to keep good relations with Arab countries, left-wing parties were mainly motivated by the anti-imperialist struggle, which then resonated within Italian intellectual circles. However, this has changed; Italy is now living in its “post-ideological age”, where morality and ideas are flexible, and can be reshaped as needed to conform with political interests.
Today, left-wing parties don’t feel the need to stand up for oppressed nations. They are too beholden to the diktats of globalisation, and are thus driven by selfish agendas which, naturally, brings them closer to the US and Israel.
While neo-liberal politics has ravaged much of Europe in recent years, Italy has proven that it is not the exception. In October 2016, Italy abstained from the vote on the UNESCO resolution condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem. Even that half-hearted move angered Israel, prompting the Israeli ambassador in Rome to protest.
The Italian Prime Minister moved quickly to reassure Israel, speaking harshly about UNESCO’S proposal. “It is not possible to continue with these resolutions at the UN and UNESCO that aim to attack Israel,” insisted Matteo Renzi. One year earlier, Renzi had officially reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to Israel in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), when he declared, “Supporters of ‘stupid’ boycotts [of Israel] betray their own future.”During his inaugural speech, Italy’s current President Sergio Mattarella addressed the “menace of international terrorism” by mentioning the 1982 attack in front of the Great Synagogue in Rome. His words “deeply touched Italian Jews,” according to the right-wing Jerusalem Post.
Rising Zionist influence
Zionist groups constantly try to sway Italian public opinion. Their strategy is predicated on two pillars: infusing Israel’s sense of victimhood (as in “poor little Israel fighting for survival among a sea of Arabs and Muslims”) and using the anti-Semitism card against anyone who challenges the Israeli narrative.
The hasbara weapons are working, as Italian politics and even culture (through the media) are increasingly identifying with Israel. Worse still, the pro-Israel feeling is now also completely acceptable among left-wing political parties.
According to Ugo Giannangeli, a prominent criminal lawyer who has devoted many years to defending Palestinian rights, the Italian parliament is working on several laws whose sole purpose is to win Israel’s approval. One of these initiatives is Draft law 2043 (Anti-discrimination Act). It ought to be called the Anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] Act. The signatories compare the boycott of Israel with “disguised anti-Semitism”. If approved, the legislation will sanction exemplary punishment for BDS campaigners in Italy.
Among the signatories of the draft law is Emma Fattorini, a member of the Italian Democratic Party as well as the “Committee for the protection and promotion of human rights”. Palestinian rights, of course, are of no concern to Fattorini at the moment; they are nowhere to be found in her “human rights” agenda.
Another signatory is Paolo Corsini, who abandoned the Democratic Party and moved to the left-wing MDP – Articolo 1. Corsini was also the rapporteur of the “Agreement between Italy and Israel on public safety”, already ratified by the Italian parliament. The agreement strengthens the relationship between the two countries in a more effective way, in exchange for Israel’s sharing of information on public order and how to control mass protests.
Only a few voices are being raised against Italy’s political and cultural subordination to Israel. Italian politician Massimo D’Alema, a former Foreign Minister, has criticised the change in Italian policies. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he was critical of Italy and Europe over their willingness to please Israeli leaders. He called on the left to reclaim its historic role in support of the Palestinian people.
Activists and progressive politicians can learn from the Italian experience: solidarity with Palestine begins at home. There is a need for strong opposition to any attempts to criminalise BDS, as well as strong countermeasures against pernicious Israeli hasbara that is penetrating every aspect of society on a daily basis.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.