Israel’s new Rome envoy raises concerns among Italian Jews

After PM announces ex-Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein to take up role, some community members fear accusations of ‘dual loyalty’

The appointment of a former Italian lawmaker as Israel’s ambassador to Rome has rattled the Italian Jewish community, amid fear of accusations of dual loyalty, Haaretz reported Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday appointed Fiamma Nirenstein, a former Italian MP and journalist, as Israel’s new envoy. Nirenstein immigrated to Israel in 2013.

In response, Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said Nirenstein is “a very good journalist.”

“But I fear there may be problems… just read what’s already on the social networks about her dual citizenship,” he added.

Another unnamed senior member of the Roman Jewish community termed Nirenstein’s appointment “problematic.”

“If they appointed her as Israel’s envoy in the UN or in another capital it would be alright. But appointing her as ambassador to Rome could make people ask if Italy’s Jews are Israeli or Italian. It could even harm other Jews’ chance of being elected to the Italian parliament, or to senior government posts in the future,” he said.

Another community member cautioned the move could stir up anti-Jewish sentiment in Italy.

“This appointment could create a problem of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Over the years, the Jew is always suspected of being a traitor to his country. Placing her in Italy, on the other side of the table, could harm Italian Jews’ identity. The absolute majority of them are Zionists, but they’re also citizens with all the rights and duties. It’s not something to be trifled with,” he said.

According to the Haaretz report, Nirenstein’s son works in the Italian intelligence service and speculated that his mother’s new role as a foreign diplomat may cost him his position.

Born in Florence, Nirenstein was elected to the Italian parliament in 2008 as a member of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom party.

She served as deputy chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, was a major supporter of Israel, and headed a committee to investigate anti-Semitism.

“I’m convinced that Fiamma Nirenstein will bring with her to the position lots of diplomatic and political experience, and will succeed in deepening the relationship between Israel and Italy, our close friends, and act for diplomatic, economic, cultural and security cooperation,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday.

“The connection between Jerusalem and Rome is over 2,000 years old. I’m happy to send Fiamma Nirenstein to strengthen that connection.”

Nirenstein, author of a column in Italy’s Il Giornale daily newspaper and 10 books in Italian and two in English, said she was happy to accept the position.

“I assured the prime minister that I will do everything in my power to strengthen the close ties between the two states,” Nirenstein said.

She will renounce her Italian citizenship upon being formally appointed, just as Michael Oren gave up his US citizenship in 2009 when he became Israel’s ambassador to Washington.

The appointment of Nirenstein came a month after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi paid a state visit to Israel, in a move indicative of increasingly close ties between Rome and Jerusalem. He told the Knesset that he plans to call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

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