Israel Looks to Strengthen Friendship With Italy, Causes Protests Instead

Pro-Palestinian protests have erupted in Milan this past week as an outcry against the city’s decision to host the cultural event titled “Unexpected Israel.”

The event is the largest Israeli cultural event ever organized abroad and has been held in Milan’s central plaza. Its purpose is to display the diversity of culture within Israel and to encourage peace and understanding with Italy. The event started on June 13 and will continue until June 23, despite the pro-Palestinian protests calling for it to end earlier.

Pro-Palestinian activists are angry with officials for allowing what they see as Zionist propaganda into their city. The group claims it is using its right to openly question the accuracy of information being displayed by the event. They also urge Italians to join in the demonstrations as well as participate in the larger Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. This larger movement pushes for an international boycott of Israel in all areas, from academic to trade.

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Israeli supporters have rallied in support of the event. The new city mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, has sided with the supporters in allowing the event to stay in the public square after there had been some talk of moving it to a less populated location. If the event had been moved, it would have felt like defeat for the Israeli supporters.

Pisapia, according to Time magazine, released a statement saying, "Milan is an open and hospital city for everyone. It cannot be the place to reproduce a fight that for too long has not been solved peacefully," he said. "Milan is a sister city of Tel Aviv and Bethlehem, and it must continue being a meeting point for cultures and peoples."

The protests come just after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made headlines last week when he paid a visit to Rome to meet with his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi. During this meeting, eight bilateral accords were signed as an act of cooperation between the two states in areas ranging from education to culture.

At a press conference, Netanyahu raised some eyebrows when he said Israel “had no better friend” than Berlusconi.

Netanyahu has used the trip to garner opposition to U.N. support and acceptance of a Palestinian membership. Palestine has said it will bring up the issue for a symbolic vote in September. Berlusconi has backed Israel on this issue by calling the radical Palestinian group Hamas’ recognition of Israel a “priority objective” for peace between the two states.

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