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August 14, 2015 10:35 am

Fiamma Nirenstein’s Loyalty

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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Former Italian MP and author Fiamma Nirenstein is Israel's new ambassador to Italy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Former Italian MP and author Fiamma Nirenstein is Israel’s new ambassador to Italy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s announcement that Fiamma Nirenstein was being appointed Israeli ambassador to Italy ‎made waves on both sides of the Mediterranean.‎

Nobody is better suited than Nirenstein for this role — particularly in the wake of the signing of the ‎P5+1 agreement with Iran — due to her proven ability to create bipartisan support for Israel. Prime ‎Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ought to be lauded for recognizing this fact and acting on it. ‎

No wonder the Left is not pleased.‎

But because Nirenstein’s knowledge of international affairs and experience in the political/diplomatic ‎sphere are as vast as they are solid, what the media came up with to cast aspersions on her ‎appointment was to call her “loyalty” into question. More specifically, it was to suggest that Italian ‎Jews fear they will be accused of “dual loyalty” if Nirenstein takes up the post.‎

‎”Dual loyalty” is an antisemitic term applied to Diaspora Jews whose support for Israel is unwavering ‎to the point of not being critical enough to satisfy detractors. The The Obama administration is now insinuating charges of dual loyalty against any Jewish Americans who oppose the nuclear deal — as though Israel’s endangerment is the ‎only hitch in the otherwise acceptable agreement, and the sole cause of a potential congressional ‎rejection of it.‎

If Nirenstein were not the target of such vile hype right now, she would be the perfect person to ‎explain its roots and warn against its deeper meaning — something she has done throughout her ‎career as a journalist, academic, author and politician. Indeed, during the many years of our close ‎friendship and professional association, she has been a source of endless enlightenment about the ‎resurgence of post-World War II antisemitism in Europe, global terrorism and the link between them.‎

To get a better grasp of who she is and what is behind the attempt to discredit her, a bit of background ‎is in order.‎

She is the daughter of the late Aharon “Nir” Nirenstein, a Holocaust historian and long-time Al ‎Hamishmar correspondent — who came to Palestine in 1936 from Poland, and went to Italy in 1945 ‎with the British Army’s Jewish Brigade — and Corriere della Sera journalist Wanda Lattes. Raised in a ‎Zionist household, Nirenstein was an ardent communist in her youth. She describes that period as one ‎in which she got caught up in the “mental corruption that caused my generation to attribute the ‎world’s ills to capitalist imperialism.”‎

Her political shift began in the 1960s, in response to the radical climate that was enveloping Europe and ‎America, “You cannot run away from reality indefinitely,” Nirenstein said, in a 2007 interview I ‎conducted with her for The Jerusalem Post. “Ultimately, you have to know what’s right in terms of ‎values, and be courageous about standing up for them.”‎

The peg for the interview was one of her many best-selling books, “Israele Siamo Noi” — “Israel Is Us” — an appeal to Europeans to emulate Israeli democracy, and to understand, as she put it, that “Israel is ‎the avant-garde of the West.”‎

Nirenstein ended up in Israel in the late 1980s, where she worked for the next 20 years as a foreign ‎correspondent, dividing her time between Rome and her home in Jerusalem, with her Israeli husband, ‎Ofer Eshed, a TV news videographer. ‎

In 2008, she was elected to the Italian Parliament under the government of Silvio Berlusconi, and ‎served as the deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. When her term was up in 2013, she ‎returned to Israel, this time as a new immigrant.‎

She has never concealed her passion for Israel, a country she says is “filled with heroes.” And human ‎rights. And the ability to retain its democratic principles even while forced, repeatedly, to go to war. ‎Conveying this message is precisely what an Israeli envoy abroad should be doing. One who speaks ‎the language and knows the culture of the country to which he is dispatched makes such a mission ‎even more effective.‎

The only thing remotely problematic about Nirenstein’s appointment, then, lies in the irony that her ‎recent official immigration to Israel is accompanied by returning to Italy for the next few years. Now ‎she will do so after relinquishing her Italian citizenship, however, as is required of Israeli diplomats ‎born elsewhere.‎

If the Jewish community in Italy is worried about backlash from this move, it is not Nirenstein they ‎should be countering, but rather the anti-Semitic climate that is causing their angst. In any case, she ‎claims that reports of its hysteria are being widely exaggerated, judging by the massive amount of ‎enthusiasm she has encountered — on the part of Italian Jews and non-Jews across the political and ‎cultural spectrum — since the announcement of her appointment.‎

Indeed, it is the anti-Netanyahu Left, in both countries, whose voices are loudest and headlines most ‎sensational. No surprise there. Merely another among a myriad of reasons to welcome the pick.‎

Ruthie Blum is the web editor of Voice of Israel talk radio (voiceofisrael.com).‎ This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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