Excerpt from PM Netanyahu's Remarks at the Knesset
Photo by Amos Ben Gershom, GPO  


Prime Minister Renzi, my friend Matteo,
Benvenuta a Israele.
Welcome to Israel. Welcome to Jerusalem.

Matteo, you are received here as a true friend of Israel, a leader that speaks out for the truth and against lies, for true peace and against boycotts. We all appreciate the leadership and the momentum you brought to Italy. Bold economic reforms are never easy, including the one you are currently trying to introduce in the government system in order to achieve stability in governance. We talked about it at length last night, and I believe that we have much to learn from your experience. We also discussed the great things we can do together – in technology, the economy, trade, culture, science, security, cyber and cooperation in other countries.

Our world is rapidly changing. Some of the changes are of course threatening and challenging. But some of them create great opportunities. Israel and Italy are two dynamic countries with enormous creativity and talent, and I believe that together we can achieve much more in many fields.

When we stand together and face the future, we stand on the foundations of glorious pasts that enrich our cultures and give us confidence in our ability to shape a new and better future for our countries. I know that for you Jerusalem feels like Rome or your home city of Florence, where the new rests on the foundations of the old. Rome and Jerusalem are two fundamental pillars of Western, liberal and enlightened civilization.

Our cultures are intertwined. They have had an enormous impact on history. The Jewish ethics introduced the values of justice, truth and love of humankind. And the state doctrine developed in Rome shaped the form of governance in our world. As the Speaker said, the connection between Rome and Jerusalem remains in modern times. The Italian National Movement, the Risorgimento, had an considerable influence on the awakening of Jewish nationality.

More than 160 years ago, Moshe Hess, perhaps the first Zionist leader or at least one of the first three, wrote the following: "With the liberation of the eternal city on the banks of the Tiber begins the liberation of the eternal city in the foothills of Moriah Mountain. The revival of Italy was the harbinger of the revival of Judaism."

The founding fathers of Zionism, including Herzl and Nordau, drew inspiration from the founding fathers of the Italian National Movement, Mazzini and Garibaldi. In January 1904, several months before his death at the age of 44, Herzl met in Rome with the Pope and the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele, and then wrote in his diary what the King said to him: "I am glad you walked away from the Uganda plan. Your love for Jerusalem inspires me."  It must have inspired Herzl also.

Among the followers of Herzl was Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of my movement. In his youth, Jabotinsky studied law in Rome. He wrote: "If I have a spiritual homeland, it is Italy." The leaders of Zionism paved the way for the fulfillment of our national aspirations in the Land of Israel based, among other things, on Italy’s successful national renaissance. We established a state of our own, but not before we experienced the most terrible of all calamities that befell our people – the Holocaust. During your visit to Yad Vashem, you saw clear evidence of the diabolic annihilation machine of the Nazis that eradicated six million of our people, including many Italian Jews.

After the Holocaust, we rose from the ashes and reached new heights. Israel is a democratic, advanced and prosperous country. Since our independence, we have nurtured ties of friendship with countries across five continents, and we have always considered Italy to be an important and major ally in the Mediterranean region. I have to tell you that it is not just about interests, but there is also a great sense of sympathy. We love the Italian language, the way it sings. We marvel at Italian art that reached its apex during the Renaissance and continues to soar to new heights all the time. We love Italian cuisine. I can attest to that personally. It has a place of honor on every Israeli table. We also love Italian football, including Fiorentina. We love Italy, and believe me when I say that I speak on behalf of all the sectors represented in this House.

Italian design is a synonym for quality and aesthetics, from fashion to classic industrial design to remarkable architecture. There is great potential for cooperation between us because the connection between our two gifted and creative peoples can encompass many new fields, and your visit here will help us to further strengthen the already strong ties between us. It is a solid, genuine and very optimistic friendship.

You know, Matteo, that the excellent relations between Italy and Israel, between Rome and Jerusalem, were not always excellent. We experienced destruction and exile, but we never forgot our homeland. The Menorah carried on the shoulders of the exiles of Judea, that same Menorah that is engraved on the Arch of Titus in Rome, is a symbol of our sovereign country. We wish to light this Menorah and have it shine brightly on the darkness that is enveloping large parts of our region. The rise of militant Islam has turned the Middle East into a violent and dangerous region, and the fire is spreading to Africa, Europe and Asia, all parts of the world. The region we live in is soaked in blood and fire. Islamist fanaticism is sweeping cities and countries, and in its name, barbaric massacres and horrors are being committed that stand in stark contrast to the basic rules of human morality.

Iran, which aspires to export the Khomeini revolution across the globe, continues to call daily for the annihilation of Israel. It spreads murderous terrorism and undermines stability across the Middle East. Let me be as clear as I can. The nuclear deal signed with Iran last week threatens not only us. It also threatens you in Europe. It threatens the United States and the international community as a whole. 

The deal leaves Iran with the capacity to acquire an arsenal of nuclear bombs within a decade, fifteen years at the most. At that time, all limitations on Iran’s ability to manufacture advanced and non-advanced centrifuges and enrich uranium to any level they want, will be lifted. Iran will then be able to break out to many nuclear bombs in zero time and with international legitimacy. The deal will also enrich Iran’s coffers immediately with hundreds of billions of dollars, at least a hundred billion in the first year – money that will be used to increase its aggression in the region and its terrorism worldwide.

In Israel and in many other countries in the Middle East there is a broad consensus that this is a very bad deal that must be opposed. I have to say that Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas on the one hand, and ISIS and its ilk on the other hand, not only threaten us all, but they also destroy the chances of reaching a peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors. Why? Because in the past we have signed agreements, taken steps and evacuated territories, all of which have been captured by militant Islamist terrorists who used them as platforms from which to fire thousands of missiles at our cities and communities. We have no intention of repeating the same mistakes.

We want true peace with our Palestinian neighbors. However, Matteo, my friend, it has to be a genuine peace, a solid peace. It must be genuine in the sense that the Palestinians, who ask us to recognize their national rights, must once and for all acknowledge the Jewish people’s right to a state of its own in its homeland, Israel. And it must be solid in the sense that it will include security arrangements and demilitarization that will prevent the territory from being captured by terrorist elements. This necessitates a long-term Israeli security presence in any arrangement, if there is one.

European countries, some of which rush to automatically condemn Israel without first checking the facts, can only advance true peace when they recognize these two fundamental principles – mutual recognition and security for Israel. However, they can help with other things as well. I heard your ideas about comprehensive economic initiatives that can help our Palestinian neighbors, along with other countries in our region and beyond. Responsible and monitored political progress – based on mutual recognition and security, coupled with great economic and entrepreneurial effort invested in a way that will improve the lives of all our neighbors, primarily the Palestinians – is, I believe, the right direction in which to proceed.

Israel is a beacon of morality, freedom and progress in a stormy sea. It is a stronghold of the Western World. Therefore, we expect Western countries to stand with us. We are part of you. We must stand together, united in the face of our common threats. An attack against Israel is ultimately an attack against Europe. We must join hands in this political and military campaign and I would add, a campaign for the triumph of truth.

Herzl taught us that we must fight against libelous anti-Semitic allegations. I want to commend you, Matteo, for standing clearly and decisively against anti-Semitism. I think all members of this House applaud and salute you for this.

Today, we are conducting the most just political and security campaign, and simultaneously, we are working to ward off the lies and slander leveled at our country and people. The new anti-Semitism takes the form of blatant anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment. We courageously defend ourselves against it, despite the baseless allegations directed at us. Let me be clear: We are not immune to criticism, nor are we devoid of mistakes. But when we are so distortedly portrayed as the source of all evil in the world, we know that this is an outright lie. And it brings up memories from the past.

The attitude of the new anti-Semites against the Jewish state is a direct continuation of the old anti-Semitism and its approach towards the Jews throughout history – from the blood libels of medieval times to the Dreyfus Trial, from Nazi propaganda and Stalin’s show trials – the Jews were always unjustly accused. And today, the Jewish state is put on trial by parts of the international community. The outcome of this trial is known in advance. However, there is one significant difference: Unlike in the past, today we have the power to fight back against those who seek our destruction, the power to fight the dangers and counter the lies directed at us. We have the strength to forge alliances like the one we have with you, allies who speak out against the lies and for the truth.

Jabotinsky also wrote in Italian. Whenever he would write in other languages and wanted to express his anger or opposition to injustices, he would use one word in Italian: basta, which means enough.

So we say to anti-Semitism and to the culture of lies and boycotts – basta. And we say to you: Welcome.  I wish to express my deep appreciation to you for your contribution to the enhancement of the friendship between our two states. I welcome you and your delegation to Israel. The people of Israel thank you wholeheartedly. Viva Italia, viva Israel.