Italy far-right minister accuses EU of anti-Israel bias


Jerusalem (AFP)

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

"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 criticism he has 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.

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 so-called populist leader received by Netanyahu, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in July and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in September.