On Tuesday, Matteo Salvini—the Italian deputy prime minister, minister of the interior, and leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration Lega party—arrived in Israel where he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other high-ranking officials. Some in Israel have criticized this reception, arguing that Jerusalem should shun Salvini and praising President Reuven Rivlin for declining to meet with him—although Rivlin’s office insists that only scheduling problems prevented him from doing so. Emmanuel Navon comments:
No country in the world would sacrifice its national interest for the sake of moral [preening]. Expecting Israel (and only Israel) to do so is absurd. The question is not whether Israel is also entitled to play by the rules of Realpolitik (of course it is) but whether its policy of rapprochement with Europe’s “populist” governments serves the national interest. The answer is yes—although only to a point. . . .
[Some] European governments and parties, [including Salvini’s], happen to admire Israel for what it represents [in their eyes]: a proud nation-state that is economically successful and . . . has no qualms about defending its borders, about defeating terrorists, and about aggravating Eurocrats. Thanks to its strong ties with [such governments], Israel has been able to break the Brussels consensus. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania, for example, have blocked an EU decision meant to condemn the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. On the issue of Iran, the “Visegrad Group” (the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia) are making it harder for the European Commission to bypass the renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran. Recently, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding with Cyprus, Greece, and Italy to build a pipeline that will enable Israel to export its natural gas to Europe. . . .
[That being said], Israel has no interest . . . in the proliferation of populist governments [in Europe], because these governments generally oppose free trade and are more inclined to align with Russia than with the United States. . . . Israel has a free-trade agreement with the EU and is part of its flagship research-and-development program. [Israel] would therefore not benefit from a Europe dominated by pro-Russian mercantilists. But ad-hoc and calculated links with the governments of Eastern Europe and of Italy do serve, for the time being, Israel’s national interest.