Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came to the Knesset on Wednesday for a special plenary session to mark his visit. Later he met with President Shimon Peres and thus completed his three-day official visit to Israel.
The Italian prime minister spoke in Italian from the Knesset podium. "We were against the Goldstone Report, which tried to incriminate Israel for its justified response to Hamas rockets," he said before Knesset members to loud applause. "We are proud that Italy knew how to act when Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were bombed. Italy is proud of its many gestures of support, such as its refusal to attend the second Durban conference which tried to tar Israel with insufferable accusations of racism and violence."
"We are fighting and will continue to fight together with you against every instance of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world," Berlusconi emphasized. "We will also stand with you in Israel's struggle for peace and security, and work to establish democracy in nations throughout the world and defend freedom as inalienable requirements for every human being."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was lavish in his praise of the guest. "Silvio, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, you are a brave leader who stands by Israel, and Israel's citizens should understand the extent of your support. Under your leadership, Italy has become the spearhead of the struggle against anti-Semitism. You not only stand before our enemies and slanderers, you also work to bring Israel and Europe closer, promoting Israel's inclusion in the Union. Under your leadership the friendship between our nations and states has developed and Italy has become one of Israel's closest friends. For all these reasons, Israel knows it has a good friend in Europe in the figure of Berlusconi."
Israel's prime minister also spoke of the past: "It must be said that peace did not always exist between us. Two conflicts between Rome and Jerusalem, the uprising that led to the destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Kochva revolution were both traumas in our nations' histories. But what happened before and after was a historic cultural meeting between Rome and Judea, which was so influential on western culture and the Judeo-Christian traditions which form the foundations of the west. Both our nations left a significant mark on history and its influence continues to be felt today."
Rivlin and Berlusconi listen to Netanyahu in the Knesset (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Towards the end of his speech, Netanyahu spoke of an Italian woman who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. "On the train on her way to work, she saw a German policeman arrest a Jewish girl. The woman, who was eight months pregnant, fearlessly put herself between the two, telling the German policeman, 'You can kill me, but look at the faces of the passengers. They won't let you get out of here alive.' In this courageous way she saved the life of the Jewish girl and sparked a light of humanity in this dark period which had fallen upon Europe. This woman was called Rosa, and one of her children is called Silvio Berlusconi."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin thanked Berlusconi for his efforts to combat anti-Semitism. "We greatly esteem Italy for its unequivocal stance shoulder to shoulder with Israel and for making its voice clearly heard against terror," he said. "As our Mediterranean neighbors, you too are within range of nuclear missiles."
Embrace between prime ministers (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
At the end of the plenum, Berlusconi visited the exhibition "Leonardo in Jerusalem" on display in the Knesset compound, which includes works by the famous Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.
Later Wednesday, during a luncheon held at the President's Residence in Berlusconi's honor, Peres told the Italian visitor, "The government of Israel is very serious in its yearning for peace – please give this message to the president of the Palestinian Authority with whom you are due to meet."
Berlusconi promised to pass on the message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Following his meeting with Peres, the Italian guest was expected make his way to Bethlehem, and then in the evening fly back to Italy.
From Yad Vashem to personal scandals
During the welcome ceremony held in his honor, Berlusconi said that his greatest dream was to bring Israel into the European Union.
The same day, he visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. "It was like being punched in the stomach," he said after the visit. During an evening meal with Netanyahu, he promised that the Italian government would continue to work against the Iranian nuclear program. "My task is to ensure that world leaders don't mistakenly fall into indifference which has already led to major tragedy." Netanyahu expressed his esteem, saying "We are lucky that there is a leader like you. I don't think we have a better friend in the European Union."
On Tuesday evening, Berlusconi referred to the scandals that have dogged him recently, and also to the affair of Netanyahu's wife, Sara. In response to a journalist's question, he elegantly avoided the issue, and turned to Netanyahu with a smile.
When a journalist asked Netanyahu about allegations that his wife had torpedoed the appointment of Alon Pinkas as Israel's UN ambassador, it was Berlusconi who chose to respond: "I see that you too have people who like to poison wells," he said.