Italy's Far-right Leader Salvini: 'I Don't Have to Justify Myself Every Time I Go to Israel'

Prior to visit, Salvini tells Foreign Press Association that 'the growing anti-Semitism goes together with Islamic extremism, to which no one is paying attention'

Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister, at a news conference at the Foreign Press Association in Rome, Italy, December 10, 2018
Bloomberg

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a leader of country’s far-right, is arriving Tuesday in Israel for a two-day visit.

In a conversation with the Foreign Press Association on Monday, Salvini said, “The growing anti-Semitism goes together with Islamic extremism, to which no one is paying attention.” Salvini also addressed the criticism of his visit to Israel, saying, “I don’t have to justify myself every time I go to Israel.”

Salvini is expected to arrive Tuesday afternoon, when he will meet with Latin Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.

Salvini will visit Israel’s northern border first thing after landing in Israel on Tuesday, diplomatic sources told Haaretz.

The move comes as part of an effort by Israeli authorities to raise awareness on the threat posed by the tunnels Hezbollah dug between southern Lebanon and northern Israel. Last week, Netanyahu briefed a group of foreign diplomats, including the Italian ambassador, on the Israeli army's operation to destroy Hezbollah’s tunnels.

Salvini’s trip will to the north will take place by helicopter after he arrives at Ben Gurion airport around midday.

In the evening he will attend a “graffiti and nightlife” tour of Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. On Wednesday morning he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, and fly back to Italy in the late afternoon.

Salvini will not be meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, with the president's bureau stating his "tight schedule" as the reason.

In a recent interviewwith 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.

Salvini is the leader of the far-right 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 League (previously known as 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. 

Salvini also stirred unrest when he called for a registry of all the nomadic Roma people living in Italy.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper this past month, Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Guglielmo Picchi said Italy was weighing the possibility of opening a cultural mission in Jerusalem, as the Czech Republic has done.

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.