Fini, who is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, arrived on an official visit to Israel on Sunday night. The visit has drawn harsh criticism from leftist politicians and Palestinians.

On Monday, he met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom as well as opposition leader Shimon Peres.

Fini’s visit to Israel at the Sharon government’s invitation drew angry reactions from leaders of the leftist opposition. Yossi Beilin, a former minister of Justice and one-time deputy-foreign minister, called the visit a “disgrace to Israel”.

“It is only because he (Fini) supports the fence that he is receiving a red carpet here.”

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid also criticised the visit, calling it “opportunistic” and  “a concordance of interests”.

"It's a shame, a real shame," he said. "The battle against anti-Semitism has to be waged from a firm base of values and principles. If the world senses that it is a political, cynical and opportunist Israeli fight, its foundations will be shaken and it will completely lose its moral validity."

Supporter of Israel

Israeli spokespeople contacted by Aljazeera.net refused to explain why Israel decided to invite the Italian fascist leader despite the fact that Jews suffered tremendously at the hands of the fascists in Europe in the past century.

One Israeli spokesman, who asked for anonymity, argued that “Fini has been reformed”.

However, when asked whether Fini was still sympathetic to the legacy of Italian fascistic movement, the Israeli spokesperson remarked that “the important thing is that he supports Israel. We can’t reject or rebuff foreign leaders as long as they support our country. Other aspects of their ideology is none of our business”.

This view, however, is rare among Israeli intellectuals and public opinion leaders.

"Sharon is a close friend of  Berlusconi, and he can’t refuse to receive his deputy in Israel"

Roni Shakid,
Yediot Aharanot writer

Roni Shakid, a prominent writer in Israel’s popular paper, Yediot Aharanot, suggested that opportunism is the driver of this visit.

“They are courting him (Fini) because he supports the security wall and the settlements and because he is deputy prime minister and could become Prime Minister one day,” Shakid told Aljazeera.net.

“You know (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon is a close friend of (Italian Prime Minister Silvio) Berlusconi, and he can’t refuse to receive his deputy in Israel,” he added.

Anti-Muslim views

Sharon was on a three-day visit to Italy last week, ostensibly to thank Italy for its support for Israel and opposition to frequent EU criticism of Israeli policies.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted foreign ministry sources as citing three main reasons for the Israeli decision to court Fini, who is known for his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views.

These include Fini’s objection to anti-Semitism, the fact that the US and other countries have recognised him and the position of the Italian Jewish community which supported the visit.

Fini is a supporter of Israel's apartheid wall

However, another reason for the Israeli government’s embrace of Fini seems to lie in his anti-Arab, especially anti-Palestinian, stance, as well his support for Israel’s repressive measures against Palestinians and territorial expansion in the West Bank.

Fini, who once called Italy’s wartime dictator Benito Mussolini "the greatest politician of the 20th century", repeatedly voiced his support for Sharon’s repressive policies against Palestinians, including the destruction of Palestinian homes, farms and infrastructure.

Fini has also backed the apartheid wall Israel is building in the West Bank, which, according to Amiram Barkat, a correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, makes him the most prominent supporter of Sharon’s policies in contemporary Europe.

Birds of a feather

Fini’s visit to Israel has also drawn the ire of some of the leaders of the Arab community in Israel.

Arab Knesset member Talab al-Sanie described the visit as a “classical example of similar birds flocking together.”

Fini (2nd R) at a holocaust
memorial in Jerusalem

“I am not surprised at all. We have to remind ourselves and others that this Israeli government is fascist to the hilt. If you examine its policies, ideology and especially its actions, you will reach this conclusion. So this is a fascist government receiving a fellow fascist leaders. Similar birds flock together.”

Al-Sanie lashed out at Zionism, calling it a “movement bereft of moral principles”.

“This visit underscores the huge difference between Zionism and the Jewish people. For Zionism, even fascists and Nazis can be good friends as long as they support Israel and stand against its victims,” he said.

Al-Sanie said that Israel’s embrace of Fini and the Italian fascist camp is consistent with the long-standing Israeli policies of supporting fascist and right-wing repressive regimes throughout the world.

“Have we forgotten Israel’s strong relations with the defunct apartheid regime in South Africa, the (Augusto) Pinochet regime in Chile, and other fascist juntas in Latin America?” he asked.