It is hardly surprising that Italian opposition leader, Matteo Salvini, has vowed that if he becomes Italy’s next Prime Minister, he will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Salvini heads Italy’s Lega Party, formerly known as Lega Nord – Northern League – a party that has long been perceived as a modern expression of the country’s long-dormant fascist ideology.
Salvini’s track record of pro-Israel statements and blind allegiance to Tel Aviv is as old as the man’s political career. The fact that Salvini made his political debut at a national level through an announcement made, not from Rome, but rather from Tel Aviv, is sufficient to express the centrality of Israel in his political discourse.
Moreover, Salvini is the golden child of Italy’s far-right politics as a whole. Considering Lega’s performance in the May 2019 European elections, one could argue that the Italian politician is Europe’s most important far-right leader.
It is no secret that Israel has openly aligned its politics with that of the ascending far-right political movements everywhere, especially in the West. This applies to the Israel-India alliance as much as it applies to Israel’s disturbing ties to the US Trump administration, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, and the Tories-dominated British government.
Israel’s links to Italy, however, deserve further probing, and should not be lumped together with Tel Aviv’s growing political intimacy with the global far-right. The reason for that is that Italy was the originator of the modern fascist ideologies, which are linked directly to Israel’s Zionist ideology.
In the post-World War II era, Italy successfully managed to suppress the fascist political strand from within, starting with the last two years of the war when Rome joined the global push against the Nazi-fascist alliance. Italy’s post-war constitution has gone to great lengths to confront any form of fascism that continued to lurk within Italian society.
It was only natural, then, that on many occasions, the revolutionary forces that had a tremendous impact on shaping the Italian political discourse after the war found common ground with the Palestinian quest for freedom and the Palestinian people’s ongoing fight against Zionism and its reactionary allies anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. As the truly radical left in Italy persists in its political hibernation – a process that began soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s – far-right forces have made great strides, allowing in recent years, the likes of Salvini and his racist hoards to return to the political arena. Expectedly, Salvini’s ascendency began paving the road for restoring a long-dormant neo-Zionist-fascist alliance.
Concurrently, the rise of far-right forces in Italy is forcing all political parties in the country’s parliament to redefine their own political agendas by inching closer to the right in a desperate attempt to appeal to the emboldened far-right constituency.
Pro-Israel Zionist groups, in Italy and elsewhere, are now exploiting the country’s fractious political scene to advance Tel Aviv’s global agenda.
On January 17, the Italian government unanimously adopted the erroneous and self-serving definition of antisemitism, as envisaged by the pro-Israel International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which equates antisemitism with anti-zionism.
The troubling “working definition” has little to do with racism and everything with politics, since Zionism is a modern political ideology, and is neither a race nor a religion. An Italian equivalent of this bizarre undertaking would be equating antifascism and anti-Italian or anti-Catholic sentiment. If this sounds odd in the Italian context, it should sound equally strange in the Zionist-Israeli context.
However, this apparent oddity makes perfect sense when analysed within a historiographical context.
Anti-Zionism critics often describe the Zionist movement as fascist. This seemingly haphazard analogy is fully justifiable on historical grounds.
Indeed, what many are not aware of is that, during their formative years, Zionist and Fascist ideologies, had similar intellectual roots and numerous overlappings in terms of their philosophical and political structures. Some of the founding fathers of Zionism, especially revisionist Zionists, regarded themselves as ideological fascists, and their progression from Fascism to Zionism was a logical one, necessitated by political expediency only.
Before the opportunistic alliance between Germany’s Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, and Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, in 1936, resulting in Italy’s infamous racial laws, a degree of affinity existed between Zionist and Fascist leaders in Rome.
Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, of which Israel’s current Likud party and other right and far-right groups are the offspring, saw in Italy “a spiritual homeland”.
“All my views on nationalism, the state, and society were developed during those years under Italian influence,” Jabotinsky wrote in his autobiography, referring to his ideological formation years in Italy.
In return, Mussolini had expressly spoken in support of Zionism and of Jabotinsky in particular: “For Zionism to succeed, you need to have a Jewish State with a Jewish flag, and Jewish language. The person who understands that is your fascist, Jabotinsky,” Mussolini said during a private conversation with Nahum Goldman, founder of the World Jewish Congress, in November 1934, as reported by Lenni Brenner in his volume ‘Zionism in the Age of Dictators’.
Il Duce – the fascist reference to Mussolini, which translates to “The Leader” – had already allied with Jabotinsky’s Betar youth movement, which modelled itself around fascist ideas and symbols.
“By 1934, Jabotinsky and his Betar youth movement had allied with Il Duce, when the Betar established a naval base north of Rome,” Steven Meyer wrote in his article ‘Will Israel outlive its fascists?’, published in the Executive Intelligence Review in 2002.
Meyer elaborates: ‘L’Idea Sionistica, Betar’s Italian-language magazine, described the dedication ceremonies which launched the academy: ‘The order-’Attention!’ A triple chant ordered by the squad’s commanding officer – ‘Viva l’Italia, Viva Il Re! Viva Il Duce!’, resounded, followed by the benediction which rabbi Aldo Lattes invoked in Italian and in Hebrew for God, for the King and for Il Duce… ‘Giovinezza’ [the fascist party’s anthem] was sung with much enthusiasm by the Betarim.’
This account is confirmed in other sources, including by Italian historian, Furio Biagini’s Mussolini e il Sionismo – “Mussolini and Zionism”. Biagini argues that “in principle, Mussolini wasn’t against Jews’ aspiration to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.”
Biagini also explained the budding Fascist-Zionist alliance based on geostrategic necessity,
“In its expansionistic design throughout the Mediterranean region, fascist Italy was in direct contrast with the British presence. The British fleet dominated the Mediterranean region from Gibraltar to Cyprus, unto Palestine. By supporting the Zionist movement in its fight against British Mandatory power, Italy wanted to weaken the British empire in the Eastern Mediterranean, while increasing Italian prestige at an international level.”
In truth, Jabotinsky was not Mussolini’s only link to Zionism, but one of many important allies who proved consequential in later years. Goldman wrote in his autobiography “The Autobiography of Nahum Goldman: Sixty Years of Jewish Life” that Mussolini was a great admirer of Zionism.
“You must create a Jewish state. I am a Zionist, and I told Dr Weizmann so. You must have a real country, not that ridiculous National Home that the British have offered you. I will help you create a Jewish state,” Goldmann wrote, conveying Mussolini’s message to the Zionist leadership at the time.
Mussolini’s enthusiasm to establish a “Jewish state” paralleled the British plot to turn the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which committed the British crown to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In October 1933, the head of the Jewish Agency in Geneva, Victor Jacobson, wrote to Chaim Weizmann, who served as the President of the World Zionist Organization, and later as the first President of Israel, that, “Mussolini is eager to open even wider the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration, particularly to the refugees coming from Germany”.
In his afterword to the book, “Stato e Libertà” – State and Freedom – Italian diplomat Sergio Minerbi wrote: “Mussolini thought that it was impossible to reconcile Jews and Arabs and that they had to be politically separated, so he floated the idea of the partition of Palestine”.
All of this changed in 1936 when Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, was appointed as Italy’s foreign minister. It was then that “Mussolini allied Italy unequivocably with Hitler,” as Susan Zuccotti wrote in her book ‘The Italians and the Holocaust’. Italy’s fascist party was then compelled to part ways with the Zionist leadership, leading to Mussolini’s decision not to meet with Jabotinsky.
Following the triumph of the Zionist movement, crowned in the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in May 1948, Zionists have, once again, successfully managed to rebrand their movement as a progressive force, though it never truly abandoned its fascist ideology.
The Nation-state law of July 2018, which defines Israel as an ethnic-racial state was one of many proofs that Israel remains, until this day, fully committed to Fascism.
To say that Zionism is a form of fascism is neither an overstatement or a haphazard claim. Indeed, the root causes of both ideologies should be apparent to any astute student of history.
The fact that Salvini and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are now renewing or, at least, openly embracing the old bond between these two destructive ideologies, reflects two troubling realities – on the one hand, it speaks of Italy’s failure to uproot Fascism as a political model following World War II, and, on the other hand, the true ideological basis of Zionism, thus the State of Israel itself.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.