Israel’s Ambassador-designate to Italy Opts Out of Role, After Comments on Netanyahu's Wife Resurface

Fiamma Nirenstein's announcement comes three weeks after Haaretz revealed would-be envoy called Sara Netanyahu a 'monster' in 1996 article.

Israel’s ambassador-designate to Italy Fiamma Nirenstein and Sara Netanyahu.
Moti Milrod and Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Italian former MP Fiamma Nirenstein announced on Tuesday evening that she is renouncing her candidacy to be the Israeli ambassador in Rome.

Nirenstein's announcement comes three weeks after Haaretz revealed that in the past Nirenstein had written harsh comments against Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Haaretz also revealed that the Italian prime minister had sent messages to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem stating that he would prefer it if Netanyahu would appoint someone else.

Nirenstein announced in an official statement that she had informed Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday that she had decided to withdraw her candidacy for the position. “I thank the prime minister for the trust he put in me. I would like to express my readiness to contribute on behalf of the State of Israel as best as I can,” she said.

The choice of former Italian MP Nirenstein as Israel’s next ambassador to Rome had initially been controversial primarily due to opposition from the Italian Jewish community and various Italian government ministries. However, in April Haaretz reported on comments that Nirenstein wrote in the past as a journalist who covered Israel for Italian media outlets, in which she described Sara Netanyahu as a "monster dressed up as the first lady."  

In the 1996 article, Nirenstein related a number of alleged incidents involving Sara Netanyahu’s conduct in the initial months of Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister in 1996.

Nirenstein noted that Sara Netanyahu was trying to compare herself to former American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and was making use of her own family for political purposes, exposing her children to the camera, a common practice in American politics. “Not only is she not on that level, but in so doing, she is running the risk that her choice will backfire on her,” Nirenstein wrote.

Nirenstein also quoted remarks purportedly made by two childcare staff people who worked in the Netanyahu household at the time. “They recount terrible incidents of miserliness and obsessive neurosis inside the Netanyahu home,” the Italian journalist wrote at the time.

Netanyahu announced the appointment of Nirenstein as Israeli ambassador to Rome back in August of last year. Nirenstein, 71, worked for years as a journalist. Between 2008 and 2013, she was a member of the Italian parliament affiliated with the right-wing party of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. She was also deputy chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian parliament.

Haaretz reported that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi conveyed a discreet message to Netanyahu asking him to reconsider Nirenstein's appointment. At a briefing of diplomatic reporters Netanyahu denied received such a message.

An Israeli source said that the message from Renzi was conveyed after his office realized the problems that could arise if Nirenstein became ambassador. Italy’s Jewish community was unhappy with the choice, and the Italian foreign and defense ministries opposed it.