ROME (Jul. 15)
For Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his visit here with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears to have been a love fest.
“My feeling is that I came to pay a visit to an ally,” Sharon said last Friday after his overnight stay in Rome.
“I found a government that is friendly, and a prime minister who is much more than a friend toward Israel,” he said, characterizing the atmosphere as the warmest he had experienced in his recent round of trips to European capitals and Washington.
During his 24-hour stay, Sharon met with Berlusconi, the billionaire tycoon who was sworn in last month as head of a new center-right government.
He also met with Defense Minister Antonio Martino, Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and before leaving Rome he briefed some 250 representatives of the Italian Jewish community.
Berlusconi’s new administration is considered the most pro-Israel Italian government in years — even though its Cabinet includes members of the National Alliance, a party with neo-fascist roots.
Defense Minister Antonio Martino, for example, is vice president of the Italian Friends of Israel.
Sharon did not meet with controversial National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini, who serves as Berlusconi’s deputy prime minister.
But his apparent embrace of the Berlusconi administration worried some Italian Jewish leaders.
“Part of the governing coalition still looks back on the former fascist regime with some nostalgia. We must remember that the fascist regime” searched for “Jews to hand them to the Nazis,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told reporters.