Anti-Israel remarks by left-wing candidates roil Italy’s election campaign

PD candidate resigns over 2014 post questioning existence of Jewish state, while party chairman reiterates support for Israel ahead of parliamentary vote next month

Front pages of newspapers reporting the collapse of the government are seen in Rome,  July 22, 2022. (Andrew Medichini/AP)
Front pages of newspapers reporting the collapse of the government are seen in Rome, July 22, 2022. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Accusations of antisemitic and anti-Israel attitudes among several members of the left-wing Democratic Party in Italy have surfaced in recent weeks, shaking up elements of the race ahead of the country’s parliamentary election next month.

A series of old posts by younger members of the Democratic Party (PD) have resurfaced recently and been latched onto by electoral rivals, including one post accusing Israelis of behaving like Hitler and another denying the existence of the Jewish state.

The ANSA news agency reported on Monday that Youness Et Tahiri, a councillor for PD in Lavis, in northern Italy, wrote in a 2014 Twitter post that the Israelis “should be the first to understand what it means to be massacred seeing that there was a certain Hitler who exterminated them, and yet they are doing the same thing” to the Palestinians.

Alessandro Bertoldi, chair of Alliance for Israel, said in a statement to the news agency that news of Tahiri’s post marked the third day in a row of reports of “raving statements, mystification of reality, hatred for Israel and its citizens on the part of an institutional political representative.”

Last week, Raffaele La Regina, another PD candidate and head of the party’s Basilicata division in southern Italy, resigned after it emerged that he once said Israel does not exist.

In a social media post nine years ago, he compared Israel to UFOs, writing that “neither of them exist.”

La Regina apologized for the post at a press conference over the weekend, where he declared that he never cast doubt on Israel’s right to exist.

In a post on Twitter on Saturday, he wrote: “When you are 20 you express and think a lot of things. Then you grow up, you study, you change your mind.”

He explained that he was giving up his candidacy “because the Democratic Party comes first and because this election campaign is too important to be polluted in this way.”

Right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini said such anti-Israel attitudes by the Italian left are “shameful” and likened them to antisemitic sentiments allegedly harbored by members of Britain’s Labour Party under its former leader Jeremy Corbyn, ANSA reported.

Italian politician Matteo Salvini visits the migrant reception center in Lampedusa, Italy, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/David Lohmueller)

In a statement, Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta reiterated his party’s support for Israel and for a Middle East peace process, according to the report.

Three days ago, Rachele Scarpa, 25, the PD candidate for Veneto in Italy’s northeast, found herself on the defensive after being criticized for a 2021 post in which she called attention to a Human Rights Watch assessment that Israel is an apartheid regime, the News Italy 24 website reported.

Defending herself against statements from right-wing lawmakers panning her remark, she wrote that it is legitimate to criticize Israeli policies when in the past it has struck civilian populations in the name of self-defense.

Scarpa said she supports the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She later noted that she has visited the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp and that she believes “it is an absolute priority” to fight against antisemitism.

PD party members responded to criticism from right-wing parties saying in a statement: “We will not submit to provocations and lessons in antisemitism from the political heirs of the Fascist Party, who thought, wrote and implemented the racial laws and sent thousands of Italian Jews to concentration and extermination camps,” Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

The Italian elections, called last month, are scheduled for September 25. The Brothers of Italy party, led by Giorgia Meloni and which has neo-fascist roots, is leading in the polls.

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