Italian Prime Minister-in-waiting Romano Prodi has apologised on behalf of his centre-left coalition after left-wing extremists burned Israeli flags Tuesday during a demonstration in Milan celebrating the 61st anniversary of the country’s liberation from fascism.
Reports said a small group of pro-Palestinian extremists trampled and burned two Israeli flags and yelled anti-Israeli slogans on the sidelines of Tuesday’s Liberation Day commemorative march, which was also attended by former aging WWII partisans and Jewish survivors.
According to news reports, demonstrators yelled "Intifada," in support of the Palestinian uprising.
Prodi "strongly condemned" the “vile demonstration of intolerance” on Wednesday. He was supported by Communist Refoundation leader Fausto Bertinotti, who said the presence of party militants at rally was "incompatible" with the burning of flags.
Prodi, former President of the European Commission, won a narrow general election victory two weeks ago and is still waiting from Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to receive an official mandate to form a new centre-left government.
Earlier on Wednesday Israel had demanded an official apology from Italy.
In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Ehud Gol, said: “As an Israeli and as a Jew, I have been filled with anger and shame at the sight of the barbaric fascist behaviour of left-wing extremists who had profaned the anniversary "by burning Israeli flags during Milan’s rally."
Noting that the incident took place on the day that Israel commemorated Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust remembrance day, Gol said he expected an official apology from Italy. He compared the protesters to those who deny the Holocaust and accused them to be a danger for the western democratic civilization.
|Vatican condemns burning of Israeli flag|
|L'Osservatore Romano,the Vatican official newspaper, called the trampling and burning of Israeli flags during the Milan march a "disgusting" offense to all Jews. "To offend a flag means to offend the people for whom it is a symbol, and therefore in this case it was an offense to the entire Jewish people, precisely on the day in which we celebrate liberation from their infamous oppressors." |
The same group who burnt the flags also reportedly booed the representatives of the Jewish Brigade who where commemorating the contribution of the Brigade to the liberation of Italy.
The events have been widely covered by the Italian media and triggered harsh polemics in the country.
"These people, along with those who deny the Holocaust (ever happened) and call for the destruction of the State of Israel are a danger for western democracy," ambassador Gol said.
Ehud Gol, Israel's ambassador in Italy
Current Italian education minister Letizia Brichetto Moratti, who had joined the rally together with her father Paolo Brichetto, an anti-fascist silver-medal veteran who had also suffered from deportation in Dachau, was also heavily booed while she was pushing her father’s wheelchair towards Milan’s main square.
Jewish community reactions
“It has been a very unpleasant situation,” the newly elected chairman of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities (UCEI), Claudio Morpurgo, told EJP. “Many Jews from different ages and personal histories were proud to rally to commemorate the Jewish Brigade’s fight for democracy in Italy,” he added.
“Suddenly we heard part of the crowd yell 'murderers murderers!' at us and we felt extremely hurt," he added.
Condemning the act as “purely anti-Semitic”, Morpurgo also reported that Italian Premier-in-waiting Romano Prodi called him on the same night to express his solidarity and his condemnation for the “evil” gesture that “offends the whole Italian people and all of those who care for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East”.
Morpurgo said hat as UCEI is merely a moral organisation, it hardly ever takes political positions. “This time we urged all political parties to do so, instead,” he said.
“All parties were asked by UCEI to reassure the Italian Jewry on their adhesion to domestic values such as tolerance, multiculturalism and secularity as well as to external values such as the condemnation of anti-Zionism and international revisionism, whose champion is today Iranian president Ahmadinejad”.
Roberto Jarach, chairman of the 10,000-member Milan Jewish community, said he believes that "this is not an attitude shared by the majority of the city's population."
However, he expressed his concern about the anti-Israeli attitude of these groups and deplored the fact that Romano Prodi didn't made any official declaration about the events while he was sitting on the stage during the rally.
|Prodi might be subject to pressure from coalition partners|
Roberto Jarach, head of Milan's Jewish community
Clearly embarrassed by the violence of the anti-Israeli slogans, several prominent representatives of the centre-left coalition condemned the events.
Fausto Bertinotti, who is set to become the next speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, had previously sought to distance himself from party officials who continue to refuse to recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the Communist Refoundation Party
Communist Refoundation is traditionally close to the Palestinian cause.
"But we also consider equally important the recognition and the respect of Israel and its future," Bertinotti said Wednesday.
Italian Jewish leaders said the while most of the participants had turned against the extremists, such acts betrayed barely concealed anti-Semitic feelings that continue to be present in Italian society.