Italy's staunchly pro-Israel prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was invited to address Israel's Knesset on Wednesday, an honor bestowed on very few world leaders. Before his speech, Berlusconi was lavishly praised by Israel's leadership.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled Berlusconi a man of courage and conviction, but noted his upbringing could not have produced anything less. Netanyahu recounted how during World War II, Berlusconi's then-pregnant mother had, at great risk to herself, argued with a Nazi officer for the freedom of a captured Jewish woman, and had won the argument. Wednesday was the second anniversary of the passing of Rosa Bossi Berlusconi, the Italian leader's mother.
Netanyahu concluded his introduction by telling Berlusconi: "We appreciate you. We embrace you. We love you." The two leaders then embraced, and Berlusconi was forced to brush away tears.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also took the podium, highlighting Italy's consistent strong support for the Jewish state:
"When Israel is facing difficult times, it sees those who remain silent, ignore, or criticize - as well as those who are doing the right thing without hesitation or vacillation, and you are one of the few who has expressed, in a clear and strong voice, the deep cooperation between Italy and Israel."
During his speech, Berlusconi lambasted the UN's Goldstone Commission for trying to "incriminate Israel for its legitimate response" to incessant Palestinian rocket fire during last year's Gaza war, and fully sided with Jerusalem on the demand for much stronger international action against Iran's nuclear program.
A day earlier, Berlusconi and his top ministers held a joint cabinet meeting with their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem. The Italian prime minister said he dreams of winning Israel membership in the European Union so the two nations may work even more closely together.