OPINION Prime Ministers and Foreign Policy

momiglianoBy Anna Momigliano*

When Italy’s new Prime Minister begun his term, earlier this year, pro-Israel commentators were quick to label him as the first pro-Israel left-leaning head of government in Italian history. In his inaugural speech the young and charismatic Matteo Renzi – a Democrat eager to distinguish himself from the old guard of his own party – had mentioned Israeli economy as a positive model: to some that was enough to hail him as the ultimate friend of the Jewish nation. Similarly, when, in June, Foreign Minister Francesca Mogherini officially warned Italian entrepreneurs not to make business with Israeli firms based in the West Bank, the same pro-Israel commentators were quick to label her as an enemy of the Jewish state, attempting to bring Israel to go bankrupt.

However, Renzi and Mogherini are part of the same team – to be precise, it was Renzi who appointed Mogherini. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the Foreign Ministry made such a high profile move without the consent of the head of government. So how can Italy have a “pro-Israel” prime minister and a “pro-Palestinian” foreign policy? In truth, things are a bit more complicated than that. While some people like to judge political decisions in ideologically loaded terms – such as “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine” – Foreign Policy often depends on a series of factors. When it comes to avoiding business with Israeli firms in the West Bank, the decision was likely taken at an EU level. Indeed Germany, France, Spain and the UK have issued similar “warnings” to their own entrepreneurs (interestingly enough, all EU nations are carefully avoiding the word “boycott”). So it is no surprise that the Italian government followed the trend, regardless of who the prime minister is. If anything, this story should be a reminder that issuing patents of “friends of Israel” and “enemy” is a tricky business, that should be avoided as much as possible.

*Anna Momigliano is an Italian journalist currently based in Milan.