Rivlin Won't Meet With Italy's Far-right Leader Matteo Salvini During His Upcoming Israel Visit

The president's bureau states that the reason the two won't meet is a 'tight schedule' ■ Salvini is slated to land in Israel on Tuesday and is expected to meet with Netanyahu

Deputy-Premier and leader of the League party Matteo Salvini addresses a rally in Rome's Piazza del Popolo, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.
Gregorio Borgia,AP

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will not hold a meeting with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini during his upcoming visit to Israel. 

Rivlin's bureau has stated that the the president will not meet with the Italian interior minister while he visits the Holy Land on Tuesday and Wednesday due to Rivlin's "tight schedule."

In a recent interview to CNN, the president said that the neo-fascist movement should not be accepted in Israel. "You can't say- we admire the State of Israel and want ties with it, but we're neo-fascists," Rivlin said.

"Neo-fascism is completely opposed to the spirit, the principles and the values that the State of Israel was founded upon," the president added. 

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President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the president's residence, Jerusalem, December 5, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Salvini's itinerary for the visit includes a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a visit to Yad Vashem and a stop at the Italian synagogue in Jerusalem.

Tamar Zandberg, head of Meretz, said in response to Rivlin's cancellation, "Netanyahu's foreign policy is consistently and methodically leading Israel into alliances with the most dubious figures in global politics. A single ray of light was issued from the president's residence, clarifying that in Israel there are still those who are willing to draw a red line."

Salvini is the leader of the far-right Northern League party, and is known especially for his strong resistance to the intake of migrants and asylum seekers in his country.

In the past, his party mostly represented separatists from northern Italy, but under his leadership the Northern League became more popular at a national level, partly due to his attacks on foreigners. 

The party became the second-largest faction in the Italian parliament after the recent elections, and Salvini entered his position in June when the Italian government was sworn in. 

While he holds the position of interior minister, Salvini's dominance casts a heavy shadow over Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte; some even claim that Salvini is the one dictating the country's agenda. 

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In the initial days of his term, Salvini issued an order not to allow a migrant rescue ship to dock on Italy’s shores. The Aquarius boat had 629 asylum seekers on board who had been rescued from the sea off the Libyan coast, among them 134 unaccompanied minors, seven pregnant women and several people in critical condition with hypothermia.

Salvini also touched of a storm by his call for a special census of Roma in Italy.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper this past month, Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Fico said Italy was weighing the possibility of opening a cultural mission in Jerusalem, as the Czech Republic has done. Fico told Eldad Beck that there’s been a significant shift in Europe’s understanding of Israel and its policies and that European parliament elections being held in May 2019 “may bring about a change in the European institution’s approach if parties of the new right become stronger.”

Salvini's visit comes on the heels of multiple meetings Netanyahu has held with leaders who are associated with the far right across the world or politicians who have joined far-right parties. Recently, Czech President  Milos Zeman visited Israel and addressed his promise to move his country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem-- a move his government opposes and that is not under his authority to decide on.

In September, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is accused of violating human rights in his country, also paid a visit to Israel. In July, Hungary's Viktor Orban, who leads a counter-democratic policy, came to the Holy Land. A month earlier, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is spearheading efforts to end the Israeli boycott on far-right ministers in his government, also visited Israel.

Netanyahu recently declared that he would participate in the swearing-in ceremony of Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who is also perceived to be on the far right side of the political map. In an interview with CNN, the premier said that he does not believe that these allies promote anti-Semitism.