Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who is on track to become the country’s first far-right leader since Mussolini in World War II, has long tried to distance herself from her party’s fascist past and indicated she would be a strong supporter of Israel, even boasting of ties to the Likud party.
Meloni’s Brothers of Italy came top in Sunday’s general elections, winning some 26 percent of the vote, and her right-wing coalition looks set to secure a majority in both houses of parliament.
There was no immediate reaction from Israel, with results coming as the country celebrated the Jewish New Year. But Israel has in the past sought to boycott far-right European parties that have come to power — as it did with Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II. Soaring in popularity — up from just 4% four years ago — the party uses a symbol featuring a tri-colored flame that had been an icon of MSI.
Brothers of Italy is headquartered at the same address, on Via della Scrofa in central Rome, where MSI set up its offices in 1946, the Guardian reported. In local elections in Rome last October, Mussolini’s granddaughter Rachelle, a Brothers of Italy member, won the highest number of votes for a council post.
Both the US and EU on Monday indicated a willingness to work with Meloni, but cautioned against any possible human rights abuses in Italy.
In recent weeks and months, as her political star rose, Meloni has on several occasions expressed her support for Israel and sought to downplay the neo-fascist roots of her party.
“We have handed fascism over to history for decades now, firmly condemning the loss of democracy, the outrageous anti-Jewish laws, and the tragedy of World War II,” she said in a recent interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper.
She was answering a question about accusations that her party is neo-fascist, and stressed that while the claim was “ridiculous… coming from a desperate Left,” she did not want to “dodge the question, because I know how delicate it can be to [Israeli] readers.”
Those comments echoed a video statement she put out in August disavowing Fascism.
“For years, I have also had the honor of leading the European Conservative Party,” she said in the video, noting that this European Parliament grouping “shares values and experiences with the British Tories [the governing Conservative Party], the US Republicans and the Israeli Likud.”
Her party, she added, “unambiguously condemns Nazism and communism” and “fiercely opposes any anti-democratic drift.” The Italian right, she also said, “consigned fascism to history decades ago, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Last week, Meloni kicked out a party candidate who years ago posted a photo of her with the slogan “Italy Above All,” writing: “This reminds me of a great statesman from 70 years ago,” and elaborating that he was referring not to Mussolini but to a “German.”
She told the Hebrew daily in her interview 10 days ago she would head a “modern European and Western right-wing government” and reiterated her party’s affiliation with other mainstream conservative factions like Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Likud party, the British Tories and the American Republicans.”
Meloni spoke of previous visits to Israel, including to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which she described as “a conscience-shaking experience.”
“Israel represents the only fully-fledged democracy in the broader Middle East, and we defend without any reservations its right to exist and live in security. I believe that the existence of the State of Israel is vital, and Fratelli d’Italia will make every effort to invest in greater cooperation between our countries,” she said.
In a 2020 video, Meloni also promised to defend Israel’s right to exist “without the shameful ambiguity of the Left.”
She told Israel Hayom she planned to return to Israel soon, hoping to focus on joint collaborations and strategies, starting with those for the supply of natural gas through the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
However, she appeared to break with other right-wing leaders, including her likely coalition partner Matteo Salvini, indicating she would not likely move Italy’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“This is a very sensitive issue, on which I think the next Italian government, like all those before it, will have to act in synergy with our partners in the European Union,” she said.
The EU has been adamantly opposed to such a move.
Meloni also spoke out against growing antisemitism in Europe and sought to portray it as largely emanating from the left and Islamic immigrants.
“I think that one of the most common manifestations of antisemitism today is anti-Israel propaganda, which Jews in Europe are most likely to encounter online. Jews in Europe are also subjected to the threat coming not only from far-left and far-right factions, but especially from radicalized Islamic immigrants who feed on resentment with regards to Israel,” she said.
“Israel is and ought to continue to be a crucial ally of the European Union in the endeavor to eradicate this evil worldwide. We support efforts to increase young students’ understanding of Jewish history, religion, and culture. This will support the elimination of societal prejudices and the full acceptance of Jewish customs in Europe,” she said.