Italian far-right leader Salvini says he’d move embassy to Jerusalem if elected

In interview with Israeli daily, head of popular right-wing euroskeptic party lashes the left for what he says is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias

Leader of Italy's far-right League (Lega) party Matteo Salvini during a campaign rally on January 18, 2020, in Maranello, a week ahead of Emilia-Romagna's regional vote. (Andreas SOLARO/AFP)
Leader of Italy's far-right League (Lega) party Matteo Salvini during a campaign rally on January 18, 2020, in Maranello, a week ahead of Emilia-Romagna's regional vote. (Andreas SOLARO/AFP)

Italian prime ministerial frontrunner Matteo Salvini has told an Israeli newspaper he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital if he were elected.

The far-right euroskeptic politician, who leads the Lega (“League”) party, has been at the top of major political polls in the country since September 2018, but an election isn’t mandated by law until May 2023.

In a flattering interview with the right-wing Israeli daily Israel Hayom, he defended his anti-immigration decisions during his brief time as Italy’s deputy prime minister from June 2018 to September 2019.

“I defended the borders, security and dignity of my country, and I’m proud of that,” he said.

He accused the Italian left, “as it does in the United States and Israel,” of “seeking revenge in the courts after losing at the ballot box,” a reference to legal proceedings against him and his party that include calls to lift his parliamentary immunity.

Italian then-deputy premier Matteo Salvini, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, December 12, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Israel Hayom, which has largely backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations of an “attempted coup” by prosecutors working on his corruption investigations, seemed to concur with Salvini’s assertion that his legal troubles were caused by “his rivals deploying the legal system against him out of fear that he’ll win.”

Asked by journalist Eldad Beck if Italy under him would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Salvini replied, “Yes, certainly.”

Moving an embassy to Jerusalem is welcomed in Israel, but often criticized abroad. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Italian then-deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini, center, delivers a speech during a rally of European nationalists ahead of European elections on May 18, 2019, in Milan. (Miguel MEDINA/AFP)

Salvini lashed European anti-Semitism, insisting it was more institutionalized on the left, and driven partly by radical Islam among immigrant populations on the continent.

Last November, Salvini denied minimizing threats made to 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and senator for life Liliana Segre, after which she was given police protection.

Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre speaks with young students on the occasion of an Holocaust remembrance, at the Arcimboldi theatre in Milan, Italy, January 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

The Italian Senate in October voted to set up a commission to fight “intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism and hatred” after Segre called for such an inquiry, but Salvini’s League party and other right-wing parties abstained from the vote, prompting criticism from anti-racism groups.

Italy’s government adopted on Friday the definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which defines some forms of singling out Israel as anti-Semitic.

“Italy adopting that definition is important, in order to put an end to the leftist parties’ hypocrisy in talking about boycotting Israel,” Salvini said.

He explained: “Today, among the parties sitting in the government [in Italy] there is support for the state of Palestine, for Venezuela and Iran. The anti-Semitism definition will allow us to clarify their positions, as with the BDS issue. There are those fighting for a state for the Palestinians, but who deny the right of self-determination to the Jews. This contradiction is rooted in hypocrisy.

“Italy was too slow in adopting this international definition,” he lamented.

Salvini’s interview was published Saturday, a day after Honduras’s President Juan Orlando Hernandez said his government would transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem once Israel opens an embassy in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

So far, only the United States and Guatemala have moved their embassies to the capital. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Australia have trade offices in the city, with varying diplomatic status. Slovakia and Ukraine have pledged to open similar missions in Jerusalem as well.

Brazil in December officially opened a trade office in Jerusalem, a move that senior officials said was a harbinger of the South American country moving its embassy to the Israeli capital this year.

AFP contributed to this report.

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