Italy’s far-right deputy PM said set to visit Israel in December

News of trip by anti-immigration minister Matteo Salvini comes days after President Rivlin and leading European rabbi warn against cozying up to populist movements

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, center, attends a local election rally in Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan, Italy, June 17, 2018 (Matteo Bazzi/ANSA via AP)
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, center, attends a local election rally in Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan, Italy, June 17, 2018 (Matteo Bazzi/ANSA via AP)

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Minister and far-right party leader Matteo Salvini is scheduled to make an official visit to Israel in mid-December, the Haaretz daily reported Friday.

There were no further details about the trip. Salvini, who also serves as interior minister in Italy’s populist government, has locked horns with the European Union as he pushes a hard line on migration, introducing a controversial crackdown on migrants fleeing Libya aboard smugglers’ boats.

Salvini’s Northern League party scored huge gains in the March elections on its xenophobic platform, and has vowed mass expulsions of migrants. In June, he sparked a multinational showdown by refusing entry to a Mediterranean Sea rescue boat packed with 630 migrants that were picked up off the coast of Libya.

Salvini also drew criticism and accusations of fascism earlier this year when he called to compile a registry of Italy’s minority Roma community.

On Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin told CNN that Israel needed to reject any cooperation with any fascist movements, regardless of their position on Israel.

Migrants sit aboard MV Aquarius, a rescue vessel chartered by SOS-Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), at the Mediterranean sea between Libya and Italy on May 9, 2018. (AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki)

“We must… work with the whole world to fight against xenophobia and discrimination, of which anti-Semitism is a variant,” he said in an interview. “There are neo-fascist movements today that have considerable and very dangerous influence, and sometimes they also express their strong support for the State of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the position of foreign minister, has come under criticism for developing ties with far-right European governments and parties.

Last week, because of a coalition crisis, he cancelled a planned trip to Austria, which would have been the first by an Israeli prime minister since 1997.

The scheduled trip signaled the increasingly close ties between Jerusalem and Austria’s right-wing government, which includes the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

Israel officially boycotts the FPOe due to its Nazi past and xenophobic policies. But in recent years, the party has made strides to distance itself from pro-Nazi views and has adopted strong pro-Israel positions since its rise to parliament in Austria’s 2017 election.

President Reuven Rivlin during an interview with CNN, November 29, 2018. (GPO/Twitter)

After Netanyahu’s trip was cancelled, Conference of European Rabbis president Pinchas Goldschmidt called on Israel to end its engagement with far-right parties in Europe.

Goldschmidt warned Israeli lawmakers at a meeting at the Knesset that cozying up to nationalist groups in Europe was putting the local Jewish community at risk.

“If a party is intrinsically racist, bigoted against large parts of society and intolerant of minorities, if Jews are not the target now, they will be in the near future,” Goldschmidt said in a statement released Friday.

He told lawmakers at the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs that Israeli politicians should consult with local Jewish communities before engaging with far-right officials.

“It is not worth a short-term endorsement or for Israel to receive political support, only to put the Jewish community at risk,” Goldschmidt said.

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