By Romana Rubeo & Ramzy Baroud
A Zionist-led war on a Palestinian cultural festival in Rome has exposed the fragility of the Italian political system
when it comes to the conversation on Palestine and Israel. The sad truth is that, although Italy is not often associated
with a ‘powerful’ pro-Israel lobby as is the case in Washington, the pro-Israel influence in Italy is just as dangerous.
The latest episode began on September 24, when the Palestinian community in Rome announced
plans to hold ‘Falastin - Festival della Palestina’, a cultural event that aims at illustrating the richness of Palestinian culture in all of its grandeur. The idea behind
it is not to simply humanize Palestinians in the eyes of ordinary Italians, but to explore commonalities, to cement
bonds and to build bridges. However, for Israel’s allies in Italy, even such unthreatening objectives were too much to
The festival, sponsored by II Municipio of Rome - one of the administrative subdivisions of Rome central municipality -
found itself at the center of a major - and ludicrous - controversy.
On September 25, an odd pro-Israel post appeared on the Partito Democratico II Municipio - the center-left Italian
political party that controls that particular subdivision. Without any context or marking any specific occasion, the
post, which displayed the Israeli flag, celebrated the friendship between the Democratic Party and Israel while
condemning the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
The haphazardness of the post and the strange timing suggested that the Democratic Party is under attack for its
sponsorship of the Palestinian festival. Overwhelmed by angry comments on social media, the Party’s Facebook page
abruptly removed the anti-Palestinian post without much explanation.
But clarity followed soon when, on September 30, the Jewish Community of Rome issued
a statement expressing outrage at the II Municipio for allegedly sponsoring ‘an anti-Semitic festival’. Taking
advantage of the deliberate distortion between anti-Semitism and the legitimate criticism of apartheid Israel, the
Community’s representatives raged on about BDS and the alleged boycott of Jewish businesses.
The statement, part of which we translate here, claimed that “… the BDS Movement will attend the initiative (The
Festival), and this is unacceptable and dangerous (because) the boycott movement denies the very existence of the state
of Israel and it is linked to the terrorist groups of Hamas and Fatah.”
Aside from the unsubstantiated – more accurately, completely fallacious - claims, the statement referenced the ‘IHRA
definition of anti-Semitism’, further explained below, which was accepted
by the Italian government as well as the French and Austrian parliaments. Based on that logic, the statement concluded
that, one, “the BDS movement is anti-Semitic” and, two, “the II Municipio is legitimizing anti-Jewish hatred”.
In a clearly coordinated move, the Wiesenthal Center, which often poses as a progressive organization, also went on the
attack. On the same day that the Jewish Community of Rome released its statement, the Center dispatched
a letter to Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, also recounting the same false claims of BDS’ alleged
anti-Semitism, the IHRA definition and so on.
The Center stooped so low as to compare the BDS movement to Germany’s Nazi program. It claimed that the Palestinian
boycott movement was, in fact, inspired by the Nazis’ boycott of Jews, referencing the slogan “Kaufen nicht bei Juden”
(Do not buy from Jews).
The fallout was quick and, judging by the typical gutlessness of European politicians, predictable as well. II Municipio
councilor, one Lucrezia Colmayer, abruptly declared her resignation, “distancing” herself from the decision of II
Municipio President, Francesca Del Bello, for sponsoring the Festival.
“With this gesture, I want to renew my closeness to the Jewish Community of Rome, with which I shared this important
cultural and administrative path,” Colmayer wrote
Del Bello soon followed
with her own statement. “I apologize if the sponsorship of the II Municipio to ‘Falastin - Festival della Palestina’ ... offended the Jewish community and led a councilor to resign,” she wrote, rejecting Colmayer’s resignation and
inviting her to return to the Council.
Fortunately, despite all obstacles, “the Festival was a great success,” Maya Issa, a member of the Palestinian Community
of Rome and Lazio, told us.
The Festival “was a way for people to learn about Palestine and to see Palestine under a different light. The atmosphere
was magic - Palestinian colors, scents, food, Dabkah, art and literature”.
The good news is that, despite the well-coordinated Italian Zionist campaign, the Palestinian Festival still went ahead
and, according to Issa, “many Italian politicians understood our message and they decided to participate”.
Now that the Festival is over, the pro-Palestinian groups in Italy are ready to counter the false accusations and the
defamatory language lobbed at them by the pro-Israel camp.
“We will respond with the truth and we will refute all the false claims, especially the lies about the BDS Movement,”
Issa said, adding “we, the Palestinian community, must resist, along with all those who support true democracy and
There is no doubt that the Palestinian community of Italy is more than capable of achieving this crucial task. However,
two important points must be kept in mind:
First, the “IHRA definition
of anti-Semitism”, also known as EUMC, has been deliberately misused by Zionists to the point that a genuine attempt at
curbing anti-Jewish racism has been transformed as a tool to defend Israeli war crimes in Palestine, and to silence
critics who dare, not only to censure Israel’s illegal actions, but to even celebrate Palestinian culture.
Of particular significance is that the very person who drafted that ‘definition’, US attorney Kenneth S. Stern, has condemned
the misuse of the initiative.
In a written statement submitted to the US Congress in 2017, Stern argued
that the original definition has been greatly misused, and that it was never intended to be manipulated as a political
“The EUMC ‘working definition’ was recently adopted in the United Kingdom, and applied to campus. An ‘Israel Apartheid
Week’ event was cancelled as violating the definition. A Holocaust survivor was required to change the title of a campus
talk, and the University (of Manchester) mandated it be recorded, after an Israeli diplomat complained that the title
violated the definition,” he wrote.
“Perhaps most egregious,” Stern continued, “an off-campus group citing the definition called on a university to conduct
an inquiry of a professor (who received her PhD from Columbia) for anti-Semitism, based on an article she had written
years before. The University (of Bristol) then conducted the inquiry. While it ultimately found no basis to discipline
the professor, the exercise itself was chilling and McCarthy-like.”
A second point to also consider is that Italian politics has reached the point that, on many issues, it has become
difficult to easily distinguish between supposedly progressive parties and the populist ones. Palestine, in the new
Italian political discourse, especially that of the Democratic Party is, perhaps, the most obvious case in point.
This is particularly disturbing, considering that Partito Democratico was, itself, the ideological culmination of
parties that existed during the era of Italy’s First Republic (1948-1992), which were known for their strong stances
in favor of Palestinian rights and self-determination and strong opposition to Israel’s violations of international
This is no longer the case, as the party’s stance on Palestine now hardly deviates from the stifling mantra, “Due popoli
due stati” – “Two people two states”.
The new era of Italian politics makes it possible for the likes of Lia Quartapelle - a Democratic Party MP - to pose as
a human rights defender on the global stage while referring
to Israel as “an extraordinary exception, a plural democracy in a region that fed sectarian and fundamentalist
policies”. Her statement is not only wrong and deluding, it also embodies a deep-seated form of anti-Arab sentiment, if
not, arguably, outright racism.
The attempt at shutting down the Palestinian Festival is a microcosm of Italy’s foreign policy agenda in Palestine and
Israel, where Rome offers Palestinians nothing but empty rhetoric, while practically remaining subservient to the
chauvinistic and racist right-wing agenda of Tel Aviv.
Italians must understand that this is no longer just a conversation on Palestine and Israel, but one that directly
affects them and their democracy, as well. Italy is a country that brought, then fought and defeated fascism; allied
with, then fought and defeated Nazism. Once more, they are presented with the same stark options: siding with Israeli
racism and apartheid or upholding the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom.
- Romana Rubeo is an Italian writer and the managing editor of The Palestine Chronicle. Her articles appear in many online
newspapers and academic journals. She holds a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature, and specializes in
audio-visual and journalism translation.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is
“These Chains Will Be Broken
: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior
Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His
website is www.ramzybaroud.net