Italian Public divided over Gaza onslaught

Published January 20th, 2009 - 04:31 GMT

By Giulia Gay, Rome 


The Israeli war on Gaza Strip has created a huge wave of reactions in all Europe. In Italy, demonstrations took place in Milan, Rome, Turin and Bologna. In Milan, Muslim youth has been calling for Intifada, wearing kefiahs, shouting against Israel and the United States. Many were holding banners reciting, "Zionism is a form of racism!". This demonstration was attended by members of the Communist Party, anarchists, and the CARC (Committee for the Support to the Communist Resistance), which supports the Italian Red Brigades.


In Rome, swastikas, anti-Jewish and pro-Hamas graffiti appeared on public walls. These episodes have been connected to both left and right wing extremists, and have marked the walls of traditionally right-wing Roman areas.
An assault on Israel has came from the PDCI (the Italian Communist Party), which justifies the act of burning flags as a fair means of protest, and which hanged on its Roman office's entrance a Palestinian flag.  However, the ex deputy of the Communist Re-foundation Party, described the act of burning Israeli flags as negative for the attainment of peace. 


Call for boycott
Once again, in Rome, a left wing syndicate called Flaica-Uniti-Club proposed the boycott of the Jewish shops as a protest against the Israeli action in Gaza.  The proposal was highly criticized and rejected by both, right and left wing parliament representatives. The Roman syndicate negates such a proposal has been made, and affirms it wanted to protest with the boycott of Israeli products and not of Jewish shops. Nevertheless, after the proposal, some "incidents" have occurred in the center of Rome, where a great part of the Jewish community holds shops.  On the 10th of January 2009, wall graffiti such as "Juden raus", and "Israel, damned land" have appeared in the center of Rome. 
In the meanwhile, on 11th of January, the President of UCEI, (Union of Italian Jewish Community) Renzo Gattegna and Riccardo Pacifici (President of the Roman Jewish Community) organized a demonstration called "We support Israel, we support peace".  Members of the Keren Hayesod organization, the Ambassador of Israel to Italy, Gideon Meir, and Fiamma Nirenstein, attended the demonstration. Fassino, a member of the PD (Democratic Party) has been invited to the demonstration. His position on the Gaza crisis was clear. Hamas is responsible for the crisis since it continues to negate Israel's right to exist. Fassino argues that Israel has the right to live in peace as the Palestinians have the right to a state.


D'Alema criticized
As far as the political leadership is concerned, some Italian politicians have criticized the position of Massimo D'Alema - former Italian Foreign Minister- on the crisis.  D'Alema has been accused of sympathizing with Hamas. He rejected this, asserting he did not ask Israel to negotiate a peace with Hamas, but rather with the Palestinian president Abu Mazen. The use of force by Israel is, according to D'Alema, a way to strengthen radical positions among the Palestinians.


The current Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, positions himself as critical of D'Alema's point of view. It is not possible, according to Frattini, to launch a Hamas-Israel dialogue. The primary reason is because the international community cannot legitimize another Palestinian state in Gaza Strip. Hamas has to stop the launch of missiles into the Israeli territory, continued the Foreign Minister, and it has to recognize Abu Mazen's authority. Frattini made a further point arguing that this is the position of the Italian government, the Egyptian government, the EU, and US President Barack Obama. 
The need to halt Hamas from launching missiles reflects also the position of the Italian population. As a matter of fact, according to recent surveys, the majority of Italians stand in favor of Israel in the Gaza conflict. 22% of Italians declare themselves closer to the Israelis than to the Palestinians. A particular understanding for the Israeli cause has been observed among men especially those living in the North of Italy and who are right-wing voters. On the other side, 18% of Italians sympathize with the Palestinians.  In this case, pro-Palestinians are generally left wing voters. Notwithstanding the little difference in this percentage; the majority of the Italians continue to see Hamas as a "terrorist movement." 

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