ROME (JTA) – Italian Jewish leaders have sparred publicly with members of Italy’s protest Five Stars movement over the Movement’s attitude toward Jews and Israel.
On Thursday, Five Stars Member of Parliament Manlio Di Stefano issued an open letter defending the populist movement as “not anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic.” He wrote: “we are far from it, and that which comes out from occasional interviews or impromptu statements is to be considered on a strictly personal basis.”
Di Stefano’s letter came after Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, on two separate occasions this week publicly rebuked Di Stefano and another Five Stars lawmaker, Paolo Bernini, for statements they had made regarding Israel.
On Wednesday, Gattegna issued a statement expressing “indignation and concern” at “extremely serious affirmations” made by Di Stefano on his return from a brief visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as part of a Five Stars delegation that had met with Palestinians but no Israeli officials.
Italian media quoted Di Stefano as saying “the Israel problem could damage the Jewish community,” and that “we don’t have anything against them, but their image on the international level is compromised by eventual violations of rights.”
La Repubblica newspaper reported that Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon had sent a letter to members of the Five Stars delegation saying he had only learned about their visit through the media and criticizing them for not having attempted to meet with Israelis.
On Sunday, Gattegna, writing in Corriere della Sera newspaper, blasted Bernini, who had not been on the Five Stars delegation but had been quoted by Corriere as calling Zionism “a plague.”