http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level.php?cat=Politics&loid=8.0.232920506&par=0 ITALY: MEDIA SPURS ITALIAN LEFT'S SOUL-SEARCH OVER ISRAEL Rome, 24 Nov. (AKI) - The Italian political left - long accused by its critics of at best, lacking objectivity by espousing the Palestinian cause against Israel, or, at worst, being blatantly anti-Semitic - is in the throes of revaluating its stance on the Jewish state. For many a demonstration earlier this month at the Iranian embassy in Rome organised by the right-wing Rome daily, Il Foglio, signalled a turning point. The protest came in the wake of remarks made by Iran's new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, speaking at a anti-Zionism coneference in Tehran, called for Israel to be wiped off the map. In what some commentators saw as a cunning move to force the Italian left to show its true colours, Il Foglio's director, Giuliano Ferrara, a former Communist who is one of conservative premier Silvio Berlusconi's staunchest supporters, challenged left-wing leaders to join the protest against Tehran as a show of solidarity with Israel's right to exist. The leaders of Italy' main left-wing political parties have enthusiastically turned out for pro-peace demonstration such as those against the war in Iraq, but seldom show up at rallies denouncing terrorism in the Middle East, particularly that aimed against Israeli targets. But Piero Fassino, leader of Italy's largest political party, the Left Democrats - created from the ashes of the Italian Communist party - together with many flag-waving party militants joined other demonstrators at the gates of the Iranian embassy. On Thursday, Fassino participated in a debate "the Left and Israel" held at Adnkronos International's (AKI) headquarters, the Palazzo dell' Informazione, in Rome. The debate was moderated by Antonio Polito, editor of the centre-left daily Il Riformista. Fassino suggested that in the past the left, not just in Italy, but also elsewhere in Europe, may have been guilty of "cultural relativism" when approaching the conflict in the Middle East - an attitude that led to the condemnation of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, but tolerance of some of the autocractic practices of its Arab neighbours. "The lack of democracy in an Islamic nation, was 'justified' on the basis that that nation was Islamic," Fassino said, adding that the "It is time that certain universal rights are accepted as being absolute." While remaining opposed to the concept of exporting democracy by force as espoused by US President George W. Bush and his allies including Berlusconi, Fassino said the left should forge a stronger policy on promoting international democracy and secularism, which he argued, is a pre-requisite for a democratic culture to flourish. He reiterated his praise for Israeli Ariel Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza and several West Bank settlements, but said he felt more in tune with the new leader of Israel's Labour Party, Amir Peretz, who he described as a "peace activist". "I hope Peretz will win the Israeli elections [set for 28 March] and that a government that beleives in peace and restarts the peace process is formed," Fassino said. Another speaker at Thursday's debate was Fausto Bertinotti, the leader of the more hard-line leftist Communist Refoundation party, who did not particpate in the demonstration organised by Il Foglio, but who together with the members of another left-wing party, the Greens, staged separate protest in front of the Iranian embassy. Disagreeing with Fassino's analysis of the left's stance on Israel, Bertinotti, said he believed it has largely "assumed a fair position but has shown an inability to implement it." While rejecting any charge of anti-Semitism that may have been levelled against his movement, Bertinotti admitted that there is a need for his party to clarify its stance on Israel, especially through dialogue with Italy' Jewish community. His party, he said, was, together with Milan's Jewish community, organising a seminar on this topic to be held early next year. While welcoming Bertinotti's recognition for such dialogue, another debate participant, Federico Steinhaus, an historian and president of the Jewish community in the northern city of Merano, argued that the left, and much of its media and newspapers, despite advocating secularism, continued to display typical historical anti-Jewish "prejudices" akin to those adopted by Israel's Islamist enemies. A further irony was that many of these images were rooted in the anti-Semitism present in a part of Christian culture, that portrayed Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ and now the oppressors of the Palestinians.