Opinion

Italy's Salvini Should Be Persona Non Grata in Israel

Official Israel plans to lay out a red carpet next week for Italian Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, an ardent admirer of fascism and Mussolini

FILE PHOTO: Salvini poses with two members of the Central Security Operations Service in Rome, Italy October 10, 2018
\ Remo Casilli/ REUTERS

On July 29 neofascists worldwide celebrated the birthday of Benito Mussolini, founder of Italian fascism. Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, also saw fit to pay public homage to the father of Italian race laws on the anniversary of his birth.

“So many enemies, so much honor” (“Tanti nemici, tanto onore”), Salvini tweeted, in an approximation of Mussolini’s saying “many enemies, much honor” (“Molti nemici, molto onore”). Salvini, the captain (il capitano), as he is dubbed in Italy, slightly altered the phrase, probably so he could convey the message without quoting II Duce directly.

Almost 75 years after Mussolini’s body was hanged like the lowliest traitor in Milan, Salvini, leader of the nationalist far-right party League, makes no secret of his nostalgia for fascism. He explained in an interview that “it is clear that many things were done in the Fascist period, such as the introduction of the pension system.”

In the same breath he denounced the race laws Mussolini enacted against the Jews. His statement was a direct response to Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s condemnation of the nostalgia for Mussolini, on the European Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Fascism was inhuman, and the attempt to merit it with certain virtues, alongside only two ‘mistakes’ [the alliance with the Nazis and the race laws] is unacceptable.”

Salvini remained unconvinced. The list of statements and acts classifying him as a fascist is lengthening – and now includes a proposal for a census exclusively for Romani (long known as Gypsies).

Officially, Israel plans to lay out a red carpet under his feet next week. During a planned visit, Salvini is due to meet President Reuven Rivlin and the prime minister, most likely visit Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, and reward his hosts with a lot of supportive statements. Netanyahu’s Jerusalem has become a factory for issuing certificates of forgiveness to nationalists around the globe, who in exchange for backing Israel’s present policy receive indulgence for their scandalous utterances on every other issue.

Netanyahu’s supporters will say you have to be naïve or stupid to expect a government, any government, not to resort to a certain required measure of realpolitik, even when it’s not morally “appropriate.” And yet Israel, which was founded by the “surviving remnants” – the Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust – should have a special voice in the family of nations.

Nobody expects Netanyahu to cut off relations with Italy. But diplomacy, even under Netanyahu – who legitimizes figures like Hungary’s Viktor Orban – has tools to deal with clear and immediate dangers like Salvini. It makes no sense to label Marine le Pen persona non grata in Jerusalem (ordered by the Foreign Ministry under premier Ehud Olmert in 2006) while now receiving Salvini in the President’s Residence, the Prime Minister’s Office and Yad Vashem.

“Every period has its own fascism” (“Ogni tempo ha il suo fascism”), wrote Italian author Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz. Some 8,000 Jewish residents of Italy were murdered by the Nazis, with the fascists’ complicity. Salvini’s reception in Jerusalem amounts to spitting in their faces.