The Italian philosopher who said he wished more Israelis were dying in the current Gaza conflict has apologized. In a telephone interview with Haaretz, Gianni Vattimo said he “regrets” such words and “feels ashamed” by them – although he defended other controversial statements he made about Israel, which he defines as a “rogue state.”
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Vattimo, one of Italy’s best-known public intellectuals and a former member of the EU parliament, was interviewed earlier this month about Operation Protective Edge. Speaking on Italy’s popular Radio 24 show “La Zanzara,” he compared Israel to Nazi Germany and to Spain under General Franco’s dictatorship. He suggested European volunteers form “international brigades” to fight along with Palestinian militias and raise money “to buy more rockets for Hamas.”
When asked if he would like to see more Israelis killed, he answered, “Of course,” adding that he would personally like to “shoot those bastard Zionists.”
Vattimo’s statements prompted protests from the local Jewish community and spurred a controversy in the Italian media. After Haaretz reported his comments, Vattimo issued statements claiming he had been misquoted and speculated that Haaretz was probably quoting the version that had been “shamefully manipulated” by the program. (Radio 24 had posted an edited audio online featuring only the more shocking passages from the interview; this version was widely circulated online.)
However, when Haaretz played back the complete recording for Vattimo, he acknowledged that he had said he would have liked to see more Israelis killed – but explained that such an unfortunate statement was made in an outburst of anger.
“Of all the things I have said, this is the only one I regret and feel ashamed about,” he said. “The only thing I can say in my defense is that I was severely provoked by these two morons,” referring to the show’s hosts.
The radio interview was indeed quite tense, with Vattimo defending Hamas while the two interviewers expressed apparent unconditional support for Israel and mocked him on air. “La Zanzara” (the name means “the mosquito”) is known for the heated tone of its debates, and its two hosts – Giuseppe Cruciani and David Parenzo – are famous for their ability to make guests utter regrettable comments. Media analyst Francesco Caldarola once described it as “the show in which interviewees commit suicide, or are led to suicide, with aberrant statements.”
Vattimo claims this is more or less what happened to him, noting, “I would never have said something like ‘bastard Zionists’ when talking to a sane person in a decent environment.”
Parenzo responded that Vattimo’s attempts to blame his statements on the show “make no sense. Our show has an ironic take on politics, and sometimes brings out the worst side of people ... But still, they are responsible for their own words,” he told Haaretz. “To claim that a renowned scholar was somehow lured into some kind of trick is ludicrous, and Vattimo shouldn’t use it as an excuse.”
Though he apologized for his comments about killing Israelis, Vattimo didn’t back down from his criticism of Israel, maintaining that it’s “trying to slowly exterminate Palestinians,” and that the occupation can be compared to the Nazi regime.
Vattimo said his suggestion that Europeans should raise money to buy weapons for Hamas was meant as an exaggeration. “I wanted to point out the huge disparity of strength and in the number of victims: a war like this is not a war, it’s one side exterminating the other.”
He added that, consequently, Europe should secure better weapons for “the weaker side. But of course I would rather see a nonviolent solution. For instance, with an international force [in place], like they did in Lebanon,” referring to UNIFIL, which has been in southern Lebanon since 1978.
Vattimo also said that, as a Marxist, in his youth he used to be a great admirer of Israel – “it was the time in which communist and socialist families sent their kids to learn real socialism in the kibbutzim.” But then, after the intifadas, he learned more and changed his mind, “just like Ilan Pappé,” namechecking the controversial Israeli historian who was forced to resign from the University of Haifa in 2005 after endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities.
Vattimo, who supports the BDS campaign, also expressed admiration for “anti-Zionist Jewish thinkers, such as [Noam] Chomsky.” Asked if he opposes the existence of a Jewish state within the 1967 borders, Vattimo said he wouldn’t have any problem with it, as long “as it’s democratic and does not bomb Palestinians.”