MILAN "Unexpected Israel," an exhibition celebrating Israel, will go ahead as planned in Milan's central Duomo piazza, despite protests from pro-Palestinian activists. Milan authorities have confirmed the location of the biggest Israeli cultural event ever organized abroad, set to take place June 13-23.
Pro-Palestinian activists have posted an online plea against the event, and have threatened to organize a rally against it on June 18. "We do not want Milan to become the stage for Zionist imperialism's propaganda," they wrote.
Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and Roberto Jarach, president of the Milan Jewish community, responded in a joint statement: "Giving up under threat would be a political victory for those who bring prejudice and hate."
After the Duomo location was confirmed as the location for the event, Gattegna and Mr. Jarach said they appreciated the "firm and coherent actions" of incoming Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia and Police Commissioner Alessandro Marangoni.
"[The event] aims to strengthen friendship and collaboration between two countries [Israel and Italy], and it is all about culture, progress, technologies and arts, which are themes that can encourage coexistence and peace among peoples," the officials said in a statement.
After meeting a representative of the mayor, the pro-Palestinian activists said in a statement that they claim their right "to peacefully question and expose this whitewashing operation of Israeli politics." Opening next Monday, Unexpected Israel will exhibit an installation consisting of 15 columns and 15 monitors, which will be placed in Duomo's vast square to illustrate Israel's diverse realities. On June 14, there will be an Italo-Israeli business-forum. On June 15, writer Davis Grossman will talk in the Teatro Nuovo, while the singer Noa will perform in concert. The main exhibitions will be hosted in a 900-square-meter pavilion.
Milan's Jewish communities have mobilized to support the event. Some 250 scholars and "friends of Israel" have signed a letter to Milan Mayor Pisapia, the Lombardy region president, Roberto Formigoni, Italy's Interior minister, Roberto Maroni, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Italian President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano. "It is not acceptable for radical groups to stop the freedom of expression, to defy Italian hospitality and to deny relations with Israel in an apartheid-style," read the letter. Filippo Penati, vice president of the Lombardy regional council said: "Every attack on a country and its people must be condemned. Not allowing the exhibition to take place in Duomo's piazza would be surrendering to an unacceptable anti-democratic blackmail."
Pisapia, who just came into office as the city's first center-left mayor in 20 years, had the last word. "Milan is an open and hospital city for everyone. It cannot be the place to reproduce a fight that for too long has not been solved peacefully," he said. "Milan is a sister city of Tel Aviv and Bethlehem, and it must continue being a meeting point for cultures and peoples."
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