The Italian politician Elly Schlein has Italian, American, and Swiss citizenship. Her father, Melvin Schlein, was an American economist. Schlein grew up in Italy, speaks perfect Italian (I listened to her speak on RAI television), and has suddenly emerged as the pugnacious and eloquent leader of the left-of-center Partito Democratico (PD). Schlein is far to the left even in her own party. And she has just been elected to head the PD, no doubt hoping to move it, under her leadership, as leftward as she can. If the Right stumbles, it may be Elly Schlein, in a coalition — all Italian governments now are formed by coalitions — led by the PD, who will replace the equally pugnacious Giorgia Meloni of the right-wing party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy). More on Ms. Schlein can be found here: “New Leader of Italy’s Main Left-Wing Party Raises Concern With Attacks on Israel and Comments on Her Jewish Origins,” by Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, March 2, 2023:
Italy’s main center-left party has elected a far left candidate with a record of heavily criticizing Israel as its new leader.
Elly Schlein, a 37-year-old dual [sic] US-Italian national, won a surprise victory in Sunday night’s ballot for the leadership of the Democratic Party (PD), beating her rival, Stefano Bonaccini of the party’s mainstream wing, with 54 percent of the vote.
A polarizing figure in Italy who has been the subject of bitter attacks for having a female partner, for having grown up in an affluent family and for her Jewish origins, Schlein stood on an unabashedly left-wing platform emphasizing workers’ rights and climate change. “I received a mandate to change people, methods and vision,” she declared during her victory speech on Sunday night.
In 2020, Schlein announced she was a lesbian, which is apparently a political plus with left-wingers everywhere, even though homosexuality was criminalized by Stalin in 1934, and anyone found to be homosexual was given a sentence of 3 to 5 years in a Soviet labor camp. In Communist China, homosexuality was decriminalized only in 1997, and under Xi Jinping there has been a crackdown on depictions of homosexuality in the media, on discussions of it on social media, and on public displays of homosexual affection. Might that information curb Schlein’s enthusiasm for the far left?
Schlein is both far left and from a wealthy Italian-American-Swiss family. Some might call her a limousine liberal. Perhaps, just to keep things Italian, she might be better described as a Lamborghini Leninist.
On the question of Israel, Schlein is a harsh critic of the Jewish state, whose comments have come under renewed scrutiny following her remarks to a press conference on Feb. 3 in which she denied having a “Jewish nose.”
Her self-consciousness about having/not having a “Jewish nose” is telling. Schlein prefers to claim that her nose is not “Jewish,” but “Etruscan.” Fine – if that makes her happy, who are we to insist otherwise? And besides, those who talk about her “Jewish nose” deserve far more mockery than she does. But surely such talk is a sign of not-quite-certain-what-to-make-of-it embarrassment at being considered “Jewish.”
“As proud as I am of the Jewish side of my paternal family, I am not Jewish, because as you know, that is passed down through the matrilineal line,” she continued. “But the craziest thing is the debate over my nose. Why is it a ‘Schlein Jewish nose’ that I inherited from my father, as racists write on the web? It’s a typically Etruscan nose.”…
She is responding to the antisemitic attacks on her, including the conspiratorial charge that she is an agent of the billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros, and the mockery of her family name, Schlein. She has soberly noted that a “real army of haters has been activated who start from my nose and my surname to express vile antisemitic sentiments.”
Among those who denounced Schlein for lending credibility to an antisemitic trope was Ruth Dureghello, the head of the Jewish community in Rome, who charged the PD leader with promoting “one of the most hateful antisemitic stereotypes” [a reference to Schlein’s excursus about the “Jewish nose”].
Schlein’s “nose gaffe” — as her comment was dubbed in parts of the Italian media — is likely to fuel concerns about her attitude towards Israel.
Schein’s complex about being/not being Jewish, not surprisingly, surely has something to do with her palpable want of sympathy for Israel, the Jewish state. Schlein, who is often quite reasonable and knowledgeable in her geopolitical remarks, becomes strangely illogical, and shows herself ill-informed, in her comments on Israel.
In May 2021, during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Schlein issued a statement decrying what she called the “asymmetrical” nature of the conflict.
In Gaza, there is an explosion of violence not since the intifada[s] of the 1980s and 200s that is causing suffering and destruction, with many children among the victims,” she wrote. “But I read too many reports and statements that do not understand that we are not facing a symmetrical clash.”
Is Israel to be condemned because it is stronger than the Palestinians? Would Elly Schlein prefer that the Jewish state be weaker than the Palestinians, in order to retain the moral high ground? Jews have two millennia of experience of being the weaker party, and it has gotten them only persecution, misery, and death. They’d rather not go through that again, Ms. Schlein.
The notion that Israel is in the wrong because of the “asymmetry” of its conflict with the Palestinians – Israel being the stronger party – leads to all sorts of absurd possibilities. Should the stronger party be condemned for taking on a weaker party that is engaged in evil acts solely because the stronger party’s military is more powerful and effective? When was the weaker party in a military conflict deemed to be – for that very reason alone — deserving of sympathy?
Schlein needs to be reminded that the May 2021 war between Israel and the terror group Hamas began when Hamas suddenly launched hundreds of missiles into civilian areas of southern Israel. Hamas was the aggressor. In response, Israel attacked Hamas fighters, weapons, and rocket launchers that had been hidden in schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and other civilian structures. While Hamas was eager to hide behind, and to sacrifice, Palestinian civilians, which would give the terror group a propaganda victory, Israel was even more determined, as it has always been — to minimize civilian casualties. Whenever possible, the IDF warned Palestinian civilians of an impending attack, sending emails, making telephone calls, and practicing its “knock-on-the-roof” technique, which consists of dropping non-explosive or low-yield devices on the roofs of targeted civilian homes as a prior warning of imminent bombing attacks. to give the inhabitants time to flee. I wonder if Elly Schlein is aware of the tremendous efforts the IDF makes to safeguard civilians. Israeli pilots have aborted missions if they detect significant signs of civilians at or near the intended target. No wonder British Colonel Richard Kemp, himself a veteran of five wars and the leader of the British troops in Afghanistan, has called the IDF “the world’s most moral army.”
Schlein went on to accuse Israel of the “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from [Jerusalem neighborhood] Sheikh Jarrah and beyond,” arguing that “the balance of power is totally skewed in favor of Israel.” She called for a solution that recognized “the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people by ending Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation.”…
Now let’s see just how many ways Elly Schlein is wrong. She accuses Israel of the “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” from Jerusalem. But in 1967, when Israel took possession of east Jerusalem, its Arab population was 66,000. In 2022, the Arab population of east Jerusalem was 366,000. It has increased more than five times under Israeli rule. “Ethnic cleansing”? What “ethnic cleansing”?
When Schlein says that the “balance of power is totally skewed in favor of Israel,” what can she be thinking? Israel faces not just the Palestinians, but many others, Arabs and Muslims, who support them. Israel had to fight for its very survival three times – against the massed military might of five Arab armies in 1948, then against three Arab armies in 1967, and finally, fought two Arab armies in 1973. In all three conflicts, Israel was outgunned and outmanned. And today, when the Jewish state fights Palestinian terrorists, it faces not just the terror groups, but also the Arab and Muslim states that support them. Qatar helps Hamas militarily and financially. Hezbollah is backed by both Syria and Iran. Iran has already provided Hezbollah with 140,000 rockets and missiles, now hidden in southern Lebanon, ready to be launched in a future conflict with Israel. And Iran itself is the most dangerous threat Israel has ever faced, not because Iran’s population of 86 million is twelve times the number of Jews in Israel, but because of Iran’s nuclear program. Should Iran manage to acquire several nuclear weapons, the threat to tiny Israel of mass destruction cannot be dismissed.
At the kangaroo court of the UN General Assembly, where Israel is perennially in the dock, there were more UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel in 2022 than were adopted against all the other nations put together. And that lopsided result happens year after year. Does Elly Schlein really not see that Israel has been, is now, and always will be, the underdog against which are pitted a majority of the 22 Arab states, and many non-Arab Muslim states as well, that wish the Jewish state would disappear?
Schlein mentions the dreary formula thoughtlessly repeated by so many, about upholding “the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people by ending Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation.” Is she aware that “the Palestinian people” were invented in the mid-1960s as a propaganda weapon? The intent was to change how the Arab-Israel conflict was viewed. No longer was it seen as a gang-up by Arab states against little Israel, that if successful would cause the Jewish state to disappear, to be replaced by a 23rd Arab state. Now that conflict was presented as between the “Palestinian people” and the Jews of Israel, who were accused of having stolen so much of the Palestinians’ land. No doubt Schlein is unaware of what Zuheir Mohsen, head of the Palestinian terrorist group As Saiqa, said about the creation of the “Palestinian people”: “The Palestinian people do not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons.”
Schlein calls Israel’s settlements “illegal.” They are not. The League of Nations set up the mandates system to help lead both Arabs and Jews in the territories formerly belonging to the Ottoman Empire to independence. Great Britain and France were the two powers entrusted with administering the mandates created by the League. France was given the Mandates for Lebanon and Syria, while Great Britain held the Mandates for Iraq and for Palestine. Originally, the Mandate for Palestine was to include territory on both sides of the Jordan River, but the British, for geopolitical considerations of their own, lopped off 78% of the territory originally intended to be part of the Palestine Mandate – all the territory east of the Jordan River — leaving only 22% of the original territory for the Jews. That territory east of the Jordan was provided to the Hashemite Emir Abdullah; it became the Emirate of Transjordan in 1921 and then, in 1946, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
According to Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine, which I am sure Elly Schlein has not read, Great Britain was to “facilitate Jewish immigration” to Palestine” and to “encourage close settlement by Jews on the land.” What land? The land that the League of Nations had assigned to Mandatory Palestine. This included all the land from the village of Al Hamma, Tiberias, in the north, to the Red Sea in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. In other words, the Mandate for Palestine, where the Jewish National Home would be located – and eventually become the Jewish state – extended “from the river to the sea.” When Israel establishes settlements in the West Bank, it has every right to do so. It is engaged in that “close settlement by Jews on the land” that is called for in Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine.
Several Italian pundits have pointed to Schlein’s lukewarm support for Ukraine’s democratic government as the potential trigger for a mass exodus of centrist PD members.
Schlein, who deplores the “asymmetry” of Israel’s war against Hamas, apparently is not bothered by the “asymmetry” of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Her distinctly unenthusiastic support for Ukraine suggests she sees little to choose between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, which might win her points in Beijing and Tehran, but will appall everyone in the democratic West.
The Swiss-born Schlein worked as a volunteer in Chicago for former US President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 before moving to Italy in 2013. She was elected to the European parliament in 2014 before becoming the vice-president of the Emilia-Romagna region in 2020. Her campaign for the leadership of the PD was launched in 2022.
It’s not surprising that Schlein should have been a volunteer for Barack Obama. His left-of-center politics fit her to a T. And so, come to think of it, must his want of sympathy for Israel, as the Jewish state strives to keep its people safe.
Elly Schlein is only 37, and is already the head (segretario) of one of Italy’s Democratic Party. She’s sure of herself, just like her rival on the right, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Meloni, however, is a good deal less polished than Schlein – the word for Meloni in the Roman dialect is “buzzurra,” meaning “rough around the edges.” Schlein is better educated than Meloni and smoother of speech. She has come out of left field to become the head of one of the most important political parties in Italy. She’s on her way onward and upward, ready for when the Right stumbles. If you are hoping that Israel will at long last be treated fairly by the EU — of which Italy is an influential member — you now have one more reason to worry.