Israel’s ambassador in Rome said on Wednesday he was filled with “shame and rage” after two Israeli flags were burned during a demonstration commemorating the liberation of Italy at the end of World War Two.
The flags were set ablaze by a small group of left-wing demonstrators, who also shouted “Zionists, assassins” and “free Palestine” at a Jewish delegation which took part in the largely peaceful march in Milan on Tuesday.
Centre-left leader and prime minister-in-waiting Romano Prodi strongly condemned the incident, which added to political tensions after his narrow victory in this month’s election.
Prodi’s centre-right rivals accused him of hypocrisy, saying his broad coalition included anti-Israel activists.
“As a Jew and an Israeli, I was filled with shame and rage yesterday at the sight of the barbaric behavior by the ‘fascists’ of the extreme left,” Israeli ambassador Ehud Gol said in a strongly worded statement.
The Vatican newspaper on called the trampling and burning of Israeli flags a "disgusting" offense to all Jews.
'Prodi sitting on volcano'
"To offend a flag means to offend the people for whom it is a symbol, and therefore in this case it was an offense to the entire Jewish people, precisely on the day in which we celebrate liberation from their infamous oppressors," the L'Osservatore Romano newspaper wrote.
Allies of outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who strengthened Italy’s ties with the Jewish state during his five years in power, pounced on the episode.
“Does Prodi not realize that he wants to govern thanks to the votes of the very people he claims today that he doesn’t know?” said Roberto Calderoli, a senior figure in the Northern League party and former minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet.
“He is sitting on a volcano,” he said.
Prodi, who took part in the rally along with many leading Italian politicians, denounced the flag-burning and telephoned Italy’s Jewish communities to express his solidarity.
‘25th of April belongs to all the Italian people’
He also condemned booing at the same march of Education Minister Letizia Moratti, a prominent Berlusconi ally who is seeking election as Milan’s mayor in a forthcoming vote.
She attended the march with her wheel-chair bound father, a former partisan who survived deportation to a Nazi concentration camp, but decided to abandon the event after the protests.
Many members of Prodi’s coalition, which spans from Roman Catholic moderates to hardline Communists, criticized the jeering—but not everyone.
Francesco Caruso, an anti-globalization leader who won a seat in parliament for the Communist Refoundation party at this month’s general election, said the protest was justified.
“Whistles are not an act of violence but a legitimate form of dissent,” he told reporters.
Communist Refoundation head Fausto Bertinotti was less understanding, saying the jeers were contrary to the spirit of the April 25 commemorations, which mark the day in 1945 when a Nazi occupation army left Milan after a partisan insurrection.
“The 25th of April belongs to all the Italian people,” he said.