A proposed law at the Italian parliament is set to punish the boycott of Israel. In the past, such an initiative would have been unthinkable. Alas, Italy, a country that had historic sympathies with the Palestinian cause has shifted its politics in a dramatic way in recent years. Most surprisingly, though, the Left is as implicated as the Right in the rush to please Israel, at the expense of Palestinian rights.
The sad reality is this: Italy is moving to 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 our everyday lexicon of Italian media and politics. As a result, the Zionist agenda is now part and parcel of the Italian political agenda as well.
Italy’s anti-Fascist, anti-military occupation and revolutionary past is being overlooked by self-serving politicians, growingly beholden to the pressures of a burgeoning pro-Israel lobby.
During the so-called “First Republic” (1948 to 1992), Italy was considered the Western 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.
Then, Italian leaders were perfectly aware of the country’s unique position in the Mediterranean area. While they were keen on displaying loyalty to the Atlantic Alliance, they also established good relations with the Arab world. Maintaining this balance was not always easy and had led to what it is now being perceived as ‘radical choices,’ which are now being disowned and criticized.
The pro-Israel trend has been in motion for years. In a famous interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot 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 Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP). Its understanding supposedly allowed the Palestinian group to coordinate its actions throughout the Italian territory, in exchange for the PLFP keeping Italy out of its field of operation.
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 the interview, Cossiga went further, blaming the Palestinian group for the Bologna massacre, a terrorist bombing which devastated the Bologna railway station in 1980, killing 85 people. Cossiga’s words may have pleased Israel, but were baseless. The attack then was the work of an Italian neo-fascist organization.
Unfortunately, the nonsensical allegations were not isolated. The example is representative of the general change of attitude towards Palestine and Israel, one that is largely predicated on rewriting history.
Then and now
In 1974, the Italian government advocated for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s participation in the United Nations General Assembly; in 1980, it committed to the EEC Declaration of Venice, which recognized the Palestinian ‘right to self-determination’ and, expectedly strongly opposed by Israel and the US.
Throughout the 1980s, the attitude of the Italian government was openly pro-Palestinian, which often lead 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, Italian President Sandro Pertini talked at length about the horror of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in his traditional end of the year address to the nation.
While center-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.
But things have changed as Italy is now living in its ‘post-ideological age,’ where morality and ideas are flexible, and can be reshaped as needed to confer with political interests.
Today, left-wing parties don’t feel the need to stand for oppressed nations. They are too beholden to the diktats of globalization, and are thus driven by selfish agendas, which, naturally, brings them closer to the US and Israel.
While neoliberal politics has ravaged much of Europe in recent years; Italy proved 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 to Italy to protest. The Italian prime minister moved quickly to reassure Israel.
Matteo Renzi spoke harshly of UNESCO’S proposal. “It is not possible to continue with these resolutions at the UN and UNESCO that aim to attack Israel,” he said.
One year earlier, Renzi had officially reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to Israel in the Israeli Knesset, declaring: “Supporters of ‘stupid’ boycotts betray their own future.”
During his inaugural speech, Italy’s current president, Sergio Mattarella, addressed the “menace of international terrorism” by mentioning the attack in front of The Great Synagogue in Rome, in 1982. His words “deeply touched Italian Jews,” according to the right-wing Israeli newspaper the 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 injecting the accusation of anti-Semitism against anyone who challenges the Israeli narrative.
The hasbara instruments are working, as Italian politics and even culture (through the media) are increasingly identifying with Israel. Worse still, the pro-Israel feeling is now completely accepted among left-wing political parties as well.
According to Ugo Giannangeli, a prominent criminal attorney who devoted many years to defending Palestinians’ rights, the Italian parliament is working on several laws, with the sole purpose of winning Israel’s approval.
One of these initiatives is Draft law 2043 (Anti-discrimination act). It ought to be called the Anti-BDS act. The signatories compare boycott of Israel to “disguised anti-Semitism.” If approved, the legislation would provide exemplary punishment for BDS campaigners.
Among the signatories is Emma Fattorini, member of the Italian Democratic Party and also member of the “Committee for the protection and promotion of human rights.” Palestinian rights are, of course, of no concern to Fattorini at the moment since it appears nowhere in her ‘human rights’ agenda.
Another signatory is Paolo Corsini, who abandoned the Democratic Party and moved to left-wing party 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 Israeli 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, also a former foreign minister, criticized the changing Italian policies. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he criticized 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.
There is a lesson here for activists and progressive politicians that can be learned from the Italian experience: solidarity with Palestine starts at home, with strongly opposing any efforts aimed at criminalizing BDS, while counteracting Israeli hasbara that is penetrating every aspect of society on a daily basis.
Romana Rubeo is a freelance translator based in Italy. She holds a Master’s degree in Foreign Languages and Literature and she is specialized in Audiovisual and Journalism Translation. An avid reader, her interests include music, politics, and geopolitics.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.