Activists in Italy are hitting back at Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who declared during a visit to the Israeli parliament this week that “Italy will always be in the front line against all forms of boycott, which are futile and stupid.”
The center-left leader’s attack on the boycott movement, which received wide coverage in Italian media, comes as several European governments are deepening their ties with Israel.
Greece this week signed an unprecedented military pact with Israel and both Greek and Italian military forces have recently taken part in joint exercises with the Israeli air force despite the latter’s leading role in devastating Gaza last summer.
BDS Italia, a coalition of dozens of groups, said that Renzi’s statement “demonstrates his utter lack of knowledge of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) launched in July 2005 by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society as a necessary and moral response to the failure of international institutions to halt Israel’s continuing violations of international law.”
Throwing the prime minister’s words back at him, BDS Italia said that “it is ‘futile and stupid’ to continue to ignore Israeli violations instead of taking concrete measures to ensure respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and UN resolutions and support the Palestinian call for freedom, justice and equality.”
In a speech to the Israeli parliament, Renzi also emphatically endorsed Israel’s claim to be the “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” a sectarian formula Palestinians regard as negating their most fundamental rights.
The Italian leader made only a fleeting reference to Gaza and utterly failed to call for accountability for the Israeli assault on the territory that killed more than 2,200 people last summer, more than 500 of them children according to a recent independent UN inquiry.
Embracing Israeli extremism
Renzi’s speech would appear to be the first time an Italian leader has directly attacked BDS, but there have been other initiatives afoot in Italy to counter the Palestine solidarity movement.
In Milan in mid-June, Fondazione Corriere della Sera, a think tank tied to Italy’s leading newspaper, co-sponsored an anti-BDS workshop with the Italian Zionist Federation, the Italy-Israel Association and the Jewish Community of Milan.
Italy – like other European countries – appears to be embracing Israel more tightly, the more extreme Israel’s government becomes.
In April, just weeks after elections returned the most right-wing and racist Israeli government in history, Italian air force personnel participated in drone training exercises in Israel.
Greece signs military deal with Israel
Also this week, Greece’s government, led by the left-wing Syriza party, signed a “status of forces” agreement with Israel which offers legal immunities to military forces from both countries while they train in each other’s territories.
Israel has only ever signed a similar accord with the US, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The deal was signed during a visit to Tel Aviv by Greek defense minister Panagiotis Kammenos, where he discussed closer ties with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Yaalon. Kammenos heads Syriza’s coalition partner, the right-wing party Independent Greeks.
In April and May, Israeli F-16 warplane squadrons carried out joint training exercises from Greek airbases.
This was the first time Greece has invited a foreign air force to participate in its major annual INIOHOS military exercise. Greece is effectively letting Israel use its territory to practice killing Palestinians, “skills” that will likely be put to use next time Israel launches an attack on Gaza.
EU reassures Israel
This week, Reuters broke the story that an EU think tank had recommended sanctions against Israeli banks for their role in the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The European Council on Foreign Relations, which frequently informs EU policy, argued in a paper that “the EU is in breach of its own laws” due to its failure to “distinguish its dealings with Israel from Israel’s activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied since 1967.”
The report provoked a plunge in the value of Israeli bank stocks.
Israel’s major banks are already disqualified from the investment portfolios of several major pension funds due to their role in settlement financing.
But EU officials moved quickly to reassure the Israeli institutions that the Union would continue to ensure the banks’ impunity and freedom to profit from illegal colonization.
According to Israeli media reports, an unnamed EU diplomat said: “We have no intention of imposing restrictions on Israeli banks that do business in the settlements. This entire issue is complete nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s justice ministry is moving ahead with plans to grant government recognition to additional Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.
All of this underscores BDS Italia’s insistence, in its rejoinder to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, that “BDS serves to break the status quo in which Israel continues to violate rights with impunity, thanks to the inaction of states and institutions.”