Italy’s Salvini accuses EU of anti-Israel bias

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused the European Union of being biased against Israel, in remarks during a visit to the Jewish state on Tuesday.

Italy's Salvini accuses EU of anti-Israel bias
Matteo Salvini flanked by bodyguards and aides in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

“The European Union in recent years has been absolutely unbalanced… in its management of the conflict in the Middle East, condemning and punishing Israel every 15 minutes,” he told journalists.

Salvini met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during his 24-hour visit to the country.

He referred to Israel as “a safe haven for European and Western values in the region”, while adding that “whoever wants peace supports Israel”.

Asked why he did not have any plans to meet Palestinian leaders, the Italian minister said he would do so on his next visit as his schedule was full this time.

Salvini, who heads Italy's anti-immigration League party, rejected the criticism he faced over his visit. “This is the fourth time I have come to Israel, and the fourth time I have been to Yad Vashem,” he said, referring to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem that he is scheduled to visit on Wednesday.

“Our government will fight all forms of anti-Semitic violence, regardless of how it manifests itself,” he said.

His remarks come days after a suspected anti-Semitic attack in Rome, in which a memorial to Jewish holocaust victims was apparently stolen.

The Israeli left has accused Netanyahu of letting some foreign leaders use the country to counter allegations of anti-Semitism against them or their parties while promoting hardline rhetoric against Islam.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has not met with Salvini officially because of “agenda issues”, but the real reason is thought to be a desire to distance himself from the Italian minister.

In an interview with CNN late last month, Rivlin voiced regret over the return of neo-fascism to some European countries, without naming them.

“You cannot say, 'We admire Israel and want relations with your country, but we are neo-fascists',” Rivlin said at the time.

“Someone who is neo-fascist is truly a person who is totally against the spirit, principles, and the values of the State of Israel.”

Salvini is the latest in a line of far-right populist politicians received by Netanyahu, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in July and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in September.



Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in ‘Ruby ter’ trial

Italy’s billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi is once instead again facing the threat of criminal sanction over his notorious ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties.

Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in 'Ruby ter' trial

Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested six years in jail for the 85-year-old for allegedly paying guests to lie about the parties in the third instalment of the so-called ‘Ruby’ affair, named after the underage exotic dancer at the centre of the case.

Berlusconi denies wrongdoing, and even if convicted has little chance of going to jail due to a long appeals process and restrictions against imprisoning the elderly.

Around 20 former guests of the infamous parties at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan are also on trial, accused of accepting money and gifts from the media mogul in return for their silence.

Young women who attended would later describe the events as sex parties, but Berlusconi always insisted they were nothing more than elegant, “convivial” dinners.

“These young women were assured that they would be OK both in terms of income, with a 2,500-euro ($2,677) monthly payment, and for a roof, a house, accommodation,” prosecutor Luca Gaglio told the court in his summing up on Wednesday.

Previously, fellow prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano accused Berlusconi of hiring “sex slaves”.

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Berlusconi’s lawyers insist payments amounting to millions of euros were compensation for the reputational damage suffered by the women from the scandal.

The former prime minister is among 29 people accused in the trial, including Karima El-Mahroug, the Moroccan teenager and dancer who used the name “Ruby”, for whom prosecutors asked for five years in jail.

The verdict is expected in the autumn.

The investigations date back to El-Mahroug’s arrest for theft in 2010 – and Berlusconi’s intervention for police to release her.

Each time, Berlusconi has emerged victorious – eventually.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for paying for sex with El-Mahroug, but the verdict was overturned on appeal after the judge said there was reasonable doubt he knew she was underage.

Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi during a rally in Rome on March 9, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

A second trial, named “Ruby-bis” (Ruby Two), ended in jail terms for Berlusconi’s close allies for supplying young prostitutes.

The Ruby-ter (Ruby Three) trials are spread out across several Italian cities, including in Siena, where Berlusconi was cleared last October of bribing a piano player to lie about the parties.

Berlusconi and his allies have long claimed the extensive legal proceedings against him in recent decades – he claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials – are politically motivated.

He has never spent any time behind bars but in 2013, with his first definitive conviction for tax fraud, he carried out community service in a care home for Alzheimer’s patients.

Berlusconi was prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011 and remains active in politics, although his career is reaching its twilight.

He most recently made headlines with a failed bid to become president in January.

His Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government but is languishing in the polls.

He has also been plagued by health problems, saying he almost died after being hospitalised with coronavirus in September 2020.

After recovering in hospital, he famously told reporters: “Once again, I got away with it”.

Last year, he was again hospitalised in Milan and Monaco, reportedly due to problems with his heart, a fall at home, and the after-effects of Covid.