Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emotional Berlusconi Speaks To Israeli Knessset

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (3rd R) walks past an honour guard as he is escorted by Israel's Speaker of the Parliament Reuven Rivlin (R) during a welcoming ceremony at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 3, 2010. Berlusconi was visibly moved in Israel's parliament on Wednesday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled how the Italian leader's mother helped a Jewish girl during World War Two. (Daylife-Reuters)
Pictures courtesy of Daylife

Jerusalem, February 3 - Israeli's right to exist and the threat posed to the Jewish state by Iran's nuclear ambitions were among the key points of an address Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi made to the Israeli parliament on Wednesday.

He also spoke on the need to combat both anti-Semitism and racism, recalled the horror of the Holocaust and reiterated Italy's position in favor of a Palestinian state existing in peace alongside Israel Berlusconi was the first Italian premier to address the Knesset, although the leader of the centrist UDC party, Pier Ferdinando Casini, spoke to the assembly in 2008 on Holocaust Remembrance Day in his role of chairman of the Interparliamentary Union.

Speaking to the assembly, Berlusconi said "you represent ideals which are universal, you are the greatest example of democracy and freedom in the Middle East if not the only one. An example which has deep roots in the Bible and the Zionist ideal".

"Israel, your state is truly the symbol of this possibility of being free and living in a democracy outside the borders of the West and for this reason you are seen as an intolerable presence by fanatics all over the world," he added.

"Israel's security within its borders and its right to exist as a Jewish state are for us an ethical choice and a moral imperative against all forms of anti-Semitism and negation and against losing the memory of the Holocaust," Berlusconi.

In regard to Iran, Berlusconi said it was "unacceptable that atomic weapons be in possession of a state whose leader openly expresses his desire to destroy Israel and denies not only the Holocaust but also the legitimacy of the Jewish state".

In his address, which was interrupted 12 times by standing ovations, the premier reiterated his 'dream' of seeing Israel join the European Union, even though it is not part of Europe.

"Israel's place must be among the nations of Europe, as a full member of the European Union. This is my dream, this is my hope," he said, Israel qualified to be part of the EU, the premier explained, because "your nation is a true democracy, an open society which is proud of its liberty, a free and democratic state in every way and in every way equal to the democracies in Europe".

Turning his attention to the Holocaust, Berlusconi told the MPs "I truly feel that I am one of you. I knew I was one of you the day I visited Auschwitz, a day which changed my life".

Looking back to anti-Semitic 'racial laws' adopted under Fascism, Berlusconi said that thanks to the Liberation Italy "found the strength to repudiate the infamous racial laws which had shamed our country since 1938 and contradicted centuries of respect for all human being an their dignity".

The premier then looked at today and recalled that after 9/11 "we Italians knew right away that the challenge posed by terrorism was not just against the United States and Israel but against all democratic nations in the West and against moderate Arab countries".

"And since then we have done our part, from Iraq to Afghanistan, Bosnia to Lebanon, to combat terrorism and foster peace," he added.

"We are united in defending democracy and keeping it free from fanaticism, prejudice, superstition and those who exploit the name of God to justify violence," the premier said.

On the prospects for peace in the Middle East, Berlusconi recalled how Rome "has always been in favor of a solution which foresees two states, a Jewish one and a Palestinian one, which exist side by side in peace and security".

"Today, this solution of two states for two peoples appears to be acceptable not only to you and the Palestinian leadership, but also the European Union, the United States and the most important countries in the Arab world," he added.

"And I have to praise Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu for the courage he has shown to follow, explaining to me the interests of his people, this path," the premier said.

Berlusconi also said that Israel was justified in launching its three-week offensive in Gaza, between the end of 2008 and start of 2009, in retaliation to missile launchings by the Hamas militant group.

Italy, he told the Knesset, opposed the UN's Golstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, because Israel's response was "justified".

In his introduction to Berlusconi's address, Netanyahu recalled how the premier's recently deceased mother, Rosa, had during the war saved a Jewish girl from a German policeman.

A visibly moved Berlusconi thanked the Israel prime minister for remembering his mother.

Speaking to the assembly after the premier's address, Netanyahu said "here in Israel you have won our hearts and in the name of everyone I wish to tell you how you have our esteem, we embrace and love you".

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack said Berlusconi's address was "stupendous, moving and real, while opposition leader Tzipi Livni said she was moved by the premier's words.

"While other leaders hold back, Berlusconi always has the courage to say what he thinks. For him it's not a question of politics but values. He knows what is right and what is wrong, whether it's anti-Semitism, the Iranian threat or combating terrorism, she added.

Others leaders who have addressed the Knesset include ex-US president George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
As can be expected the Iranian regime responded by stating that the Italian leader had engaged in "blatant interference in the internal affairs of an independent country."

See Berlusconi's remarks with President Abbas today here.

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