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November 4, 2005
Italians demonstrated against the World Without Zionism remarks of Iranian president Ahmedinejad. This is what should happen in every country, whenever the security of any country is threatened by another, but unfortunately Italy remains a shining exception. Threats against Israel and Zionism, and more veiled remarks about "neocons" remain an acceptable staple of international discourse.
Last update - 09:15 04/11/2005
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service
Italians of all political factions marched on Thursday with Israeli flags and torches towards Iran's embassy in Rome to protest against a statement made by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad that "Israel should be wiped out of the map."
Italy's foreign minister said he would not participate in a pro-Israel rally in Rome on Thursday evening, despite a promise to Israel that he would do so, in order to avoid damaging Italian national interests.
The Italian defense minister also said he would not attend the rally, Israel Radio reported.
Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini issued a statement a few hours before the torch-lit demonstration outside the Iranian embassy to protest remarks by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be "wiped off the map."
"My physical presence, as foreign minister, at this evening's rally could cause harmful consequences to our national interests and to the security of our fellow citizens from the Iranian side," Fini said.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi expressed support for Fini's decision not to attend the rally, news agencies reported Thursday night.
Fini had made a two-day official visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel earlier this week. During the visit, he had promised Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that he would participate in the Rome rally.
As Iran worked behind the scenes to express displeasure over a planned pro-Israel rally scheduled to be held in Rome on Thursday, Italian politicians from the left and right have said they were to join the event.
The demonstration was called by Il Foglio, a small conservative newspaper close to Berlusconi, "to defend the right of Israel to exist."
The paper has said that more than 500 prominent Italians, including politicians from right and left, have backed the demonstration.
A wave of demonstrations in support of Israel swept across Europe Wednesday evening, with protestors gathering in front of Iranian embassies in a number of capitals.
Fini said Wednesday the international community had to maintain a "firm line" against Tehran, and said he had instructed Toscano to tell the Iranians why "there has been so much indignation and concern" about Ahmadinejad's remarks in Italy.
Fini said earlier he would attend Thursday's pro-Israel rally. He has converted his National Alliance Party from a neo-Fascist to mainstream conservative party, and condemned anti-Semitism during a visit to Israel.
"The problem of security doesn't only concern Israel, because if Tehran equips itself with a nuclear arsenal, the problem would concern the whole international community," he told reporters.
The pro-Israel rally has split the Italian left, and the Green Party organized a separate demonstration Wednesday against Ahmadinejad's remarks in front of the Iranian embassy. Their protest, however, which drew about 20 people, was also called to recognize the rights of Palestinians.
The protest has been preceded by a back and forth between Rome and Tehran over a call by Fini, during a visit to Jerusalem earlier this week, for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions on the issue of the Islamic Republic's nuclear aspirations.
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