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Italy’s Salvini accuses EU of anti-Israel bias

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused the European Union of being biased against Israel, in remarks during a visit to the Jewish state on Tuesday.

Italy's Salvini accuses EU of anti-Israel bias
Matteo Salvini flanked by bodyguards and aides in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

“The European Union in recent years has been absolutely unbalanced… in its management of the conflict in the Middle East, condemning and punishing Israel every 15 minutes,” he told journalists.

Salvini met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during his 24-hour visit to the country.

He referred to Israel as “a safe haven for European and Western values in the region”, while adding that “whoever wants peace supports Israel”.

Asked why he did not have any plans to meet Palestinian leaders, the Italian minister said he would do so on his next visit as his schedule was full this time.

Salvini, who heads Italy's anti-immigration League party, rejected the criticism he faced over his visit. “This is the fourth time I have come to Israel, and the fourth time I have been to Yad Vashem,” he said, referring to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem that he is scheduled to visit on Wednesday.

“Our government will fight all forms of anti-Semitic violence, regardless of how it manifests itself,” he said.

His remarks come days after a suspected anti-Semitic attack in Rome, in which a memorial to Jewish holocaust victims was apparently stolen.

The Israeli left has accused Netanyahu of letting some foreign leaders use the country to counter allegations of anti-Semitism against them or their parties while promoting hardline rhetoric against Islam.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has not met with Salvini officially because of “agenda issues”, but the real reason is thought to be a desire to distance himself from the Italian minister.

In an interview with CNN late last month, Rivlin voiced regret over the return of neo-fascism to some European countries, without naming them.

“You cannot say, 'We admire Israel and want relations with your country, but we are neo-fascists',” Rivlin said at the time.

“Someone who is neo-fascist is truly a person who is totally against the spirit, principles, and the values of the State of Israel.”

Salvini is the latest in a line of far-right populist politicians received by Netanyahu, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in July and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in September.

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POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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