JERUSALEM (JTA) – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed his empathy for Israel and the Palestinians during the final day of a three-day visit to Israel.
"Today, the safeguarding of Israel’s safety and its right to exist as a Jewish state is an ethical choice and a moral decree against the possibility of the return of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and a loss of memory by the West," Berlusconi said during an address Wednesday to Israel’s Knesset.
Later, during a visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Berlusconi said, "Just as it’s right to cry for the victims of the Shoah, it’s right to show pain for what happened in Gaza."
Earlier in his visit, the Italian leader said that his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial "was like being punched in the stomach."
During the visit, Berlusconi and seven of his ministers held a joint Cabinet meeting with their Israeli counterparts.
Berlusconi noted in his address in Italian the strong ties between Jerusalem and Rome, saying that "Italy is like a big brother to Israel."
"We are fighting and will continue to fight together with you against every instance of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world," Berlusconi said. "We will also stand with you in Israel’s struggle for peace and security, and work to establish democracy in nations throughout the world and defend freedom as inalienable requirements for every human being."
Berlusconi called for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, noting that the two parties, as well as the European Union, the United States and the West’s most important allies were in agreement over the need for a negotiated settlement for two states.
The Goldstone report "tried to incriminate Israel for its justified response to Hamas rockets," Berlusconi said, amid applause from the lawmakers. "We are proud that Italy knew how to act when Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were bombed."
During his visit, Berlusconi also called for Israel to be admitted to the EU.