Lapid congratulates new Italy PM Meloni, looks to cooperate in fighting antisemitism

Israeli premier appears to change tack on far-right leader, after previous Foreign Ministry statement on elections avoided mentioning Giorgia Meloni or her Brothers of Italy party

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (AP/collage)
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (AP/collage)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Giorgia Meloni Saturday, hours after she was sworn in as Italy’s first far-right prime minister since the end of World War II.

“I congratulate Giorgia Meloni on forming a new government in Italy. I look forward to working together to strengthen the ties between Jerusalem and Rome as well as in the international arena, including in international organizations and in the fight against antisemitism in Europe and in the Middle East,” Lapid tweeted in Hebrew and in Italian.

“I also congratulated Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a staunch and longtime friend of the State of Israel, for assuming his new post,” he added.

The statement appeared to be a change of tack, after a previous Israeli statement on Meloni’s election win notably avoided mentioning her or her Brothers of Italy party, which won the most votes in the election.

That statement, issued by Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon a week after the September 25 vote, read: “Israel congratulates the people of Italy on the end of the election campaign and looks forward to continued cooperation and friendship with the government that will be established and with the Italian people; particularly in the areas of the economy, energy, water, innovation and cyber as well as in the joint fight against antisemitism and preserving the memory of the Holocaust.”

Israel has previously boycotted some of the far-right European parties that have come to power, though it does not appear to be poised to do the same in this case.

Forza Italia Leader Silvio Berlusconi, center, walks with Brothers of Italy party’s leader Giorgia Meloni, left, and the League leader Matteo Salvini to meet journalists at the Quirinale presidential palace after talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, in Rome, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after WWII. Soaring in popularity — up from just 4 percent four years ago — the party uses a symbol featuring a tri-colored flame that had been an icon of MSI.

However, Meloni has sought to distance her current party’s ideology from its roots.

“We have handed fascism over to history for decades now, firmly condemning the loss of democracy, the outrageous anti-Jewish laws, and the tragedy of World War II,” Meloni said in a recent interview with Israel’s Israel Hayom newspaper.

She was answering a question about accusations that her party is neo-fascist, and stressed that while the claim was “ridiculous… coming from a desperate left,” she did not want to “dodge the question because I know how delicate it can be to [Israeli] readers.”

Meloni also spoke of previous visits to Israel, including to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which she described as “a conscience-shaking experience.” She told the Israeli daily she planned to return to Israel soon, hoping to focus on joint collaborations and strategies, starting with those for the supply of natural gas through the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

However, she appeared to break with other right-wing leaders, including coalition ally Matteo Salvini, indicating she would not likely move Italy’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Meloni previously praised Iran, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and other allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. She also criticized Israel over a “massacre of children in Gaza” in 2014.

Speaking to reporters in December 2018, Meloni said that if not for Hezbollah and the rest of the pro-Assad front — which includes Iran and Russia — Christians in Syria would no longer be able to display the nativity scene depicting Jesus Christ’s birth during Christmas.

Assad has championed himself as a defender of Christians and other religious minorities against the predominantly Sunni rebels fighting to topple him since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. Among the rebel ranks were jihadist groups such as Islamic State and an al-Qaeda-linked faction.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella is flanked by newly appointed Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni during the swearing-in ceremony at Quirinal presidential palace in Rome, October 22, 2022, as Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II takes office. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

In a tweet from 2014, Meloni decried “another massacre of children in Gaza” amid the war between Israel and Palestinian terrorists in the Hamas-run enclave. The Twitter post appeared to be in response to deadly strikes on a hospital and playground in a Gaza City refugee camp that Israel attributed to misfired rockets by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Those past comments appeared to contrast with Meloni’s recent vows of support for Israel and her efforts to distance the Brothers of Italy from its fascist roots.

Meloni announced her cabinet on Friday evening. Her coalition allies include the right-wing League of Salvini and the conservative Forza Italia party headed by former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

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