A pro-Israel demonstration was held in Rome Thursday following recent statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying Israel “should be wiped off the map.”
Approximately 15,000 people participated in the rally, which was accompanied with chants of "viva Israel! viva freedom!" the website of the Italian newspaper La Republica reported. The rally was concluded with the singing of the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikvah."
Protesters included right and left-wing politicians, local celebrities and Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome.
Ambassador Gol during rally (Photo: AP)
Toward the closing of the rally, many demonstrators attempted to approach the Iranian embassy, but were blocked by police.
About 2,000 people gathered opposite the Iran consulate in Milan for a similar rally.
Israel's ambassador to Italy, Ehud Gol, said he felt immense satisfaction following the rally.
"I know of no other place in the world where so many people will rally in Israel's support," Gol told Ynet.
"Many celebrated Italians and politicians attended the demonstration, alongside thousands of ordinary citizens. This made me feel elevated," he added.
Pro-Israel rally in Rome (Photo: Reuters)
'Israel - an island of democracy'
Mayor Veltroni said in his speech at the rally that “my presence here is natural, because the statements by Iran's president should be taken seriously."
“It is only natural that a city that advocates peace and dialogue object to any kind of intolerance,” he added.
Italy's Communication Minister Mario Landolfi, who was also present at the rally, said: "I am here to support two principles. One is Israel's right to exist in safety and peace. The other is the need of Israel and Palestine to live peacefully side by side as separate states. I believe this is possible."
Another Italian politician, Marco Follini, who attended the demonstration, said that "it is sad that a rally to support Israel's right to exist within safe borders is at all needed."
Rome's Rabbi Di-Segni said, "our protest is against Iran, not against the Iranian people. We do not burn flags. The Iranian flag is respected here, and stands alongside the Italian and Israeli flag."
"Our response to what is done in Iran is by no way motivated by imperialistic notions. We do it because Europe had paid costly for some such ideas," he added.
A Muslim speaker at the demonstration called Israel "a great island of democracy," and said that war on terror must ensue.
Earlier on Thursday, Italy's Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said he will not participate in the rally, to avoid damaging Italian national interests.
"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," he said.
Berlusconi stated he supported Fini's decision not to attend.
Ambassador Gol said that although Fini did not participate in the rally, the majority in Italy supports Israel, and said Italy was a friend to Israel.
About 15,000 attend demonstration (Photo: AFP)
Many of Italy's major news websites dedicated their headlines to the rally.
Protests in support of Israel were also held in Paris and Vienna.
Thursday's demonstration in Rome was organized by conservative Italian newspaper Il Foglio, which is partly owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife.
The Italian green party decided to hold a separate protest opposite Iran's embassy, which also called for recognition of Palestinian rights.
Political sources in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction over the rally, which marked a series of international support statements for Israel in the last few days.
In recent days Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom held meetings with several of his counterparts, including the foreign ministers of Russia, France, Italy and Switzerland.
In Tehran some 200 students protested outside the Italian embassy Thursday against the planned demonstration, La Republica reported. The Iranian protestors carried signs stating that "Israel should be wiped off the map, and it would be destroyed," according to the report.
The Italian Ambassador in Tehran, Roberto Toscano, was summoned Wednesday by the Iranian Foreign Ministry to account for his country's reservations regarding Ahmadinejad's words.
Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, a member of the far-right Northern League party, said Rome should react to the summons by recalling its ambassador from Tehran.
"I believe one cannot have a civilized relationship with people who have shown themselves to be uncivilized," he said.
New agencies contributed to the report