Controversy erupted in Italy after former interior minister Matteo Salvini said that the "massive presence" of migrants coming from Muslim countries was "spreading antisemitism, in Italy as well." The former minister and leader of the right-wing League party also said he'd recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in case he is elected prime minister.
Former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, responding to a question in an interview with the Israeli daily Israel Hayom on the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe, said "the massive presence of migrants coming from Muslim countries is spreading antisemitism, in Italy as well." His comments set off controversy and brought criticism from Muslim communities in Italy.
"I think that [antisemitism] has to do with the strengthening of Islamic extremism and fanaticism in recent years," Salvini said in the interview.
"Most importantly it is connected to the fact that some academics and media are mobilized against Israel and they create hate of Israel to justify antisemitism," he said.
The former minister and leader of the right-wing League party also said that if he is elected prime minister, he will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. US President Donald Trump's same controversial decision in December 2017 sparked a global outcry
Salvini also said his party "has no ties with political organizations" on the far right such as Casa Pound, Forza Nuova and Fiamma. These organizations are considered "antisemites" and xenophobic.
Criticism from Arab organizations
Salvini's comments prompted the Community of the Arab World in Italy (Co-mai) and the International Interreligious Lay Confederation (Cili-Italia) to issue a statement expressing their position.
"Muslims and Arab Italians have always spoken out against antisemitism," the statement read. They urged Salvini not to use them "as an excuse to distance yourself from the movements of the far right," the organizations said in the statement.
"We have always fought terrorism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and fear with clear positions and constructive, unambiguous proposals expressing solidarity with all Jews, Muslims, Christians, and lay people and conversing with all communities in an open and sincere dialogue, including the Jewish community and the Jewish Medical Association," it said further.
Foad Aodi, founder of Co-Mai and Cili-Italia, said he is directly calling on Salvini "to be more responsible and respectful in his statements about the Arab and Muslim communities and about all migrants residing in Italy who have never been disrespectful or attacked or named Salvini in recent years despite his numerous offenses and political slogans".
"Italy has always been on good terms with Arab and Muslim countries, both as governments as well as populations, including the Palestinian government," Aodi said.