Italy summons US envoy over wiretaps, including Netanyahu-Berlusconi conversation

The Italian government summoned the U.S. ambassador to complain about reports that the United States eavesdropped on a conversation between Israeli and Italian leaders, among others.

John Phillips was called in to “clarify” the latest WikiLeaks revelation, the country’s foreign ministry said Tuesday, the French news agency AFP reported.

The latest batch of U.S. government cables released by Wikileaks, an organization dedicated to government transparency, reveals eavesdropping in 2010 and 2011 on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as on then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. WikiLeaks released the cables to German and Italian newspapers.

One conversation was between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Berlusconi following the fallout between the Obama and Netanyahu governments over an Israeli announcement of building in eastern Jerusalem made during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.

In the conversation of March 13, 2010, Berlusconi promises Netanyahu to help mend ties after the Israeli asks for his assistance, the Times of Israel reported.

Italy’s Berlusconi slams Jewish TV host

One of Italy’s most prominent Jewish figures is at the center of the latest round of scandals surrounding Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Journalist, author and TV personality Gad Lerner, host of a popular late-night Italian TV talk show called “The Infidel” on the independent La7 channel, was berated live on air by the premier earlier this week.

Late Monday night, a furious Berlusconi called in to the show and let loose a barrage of insults against Lerner and the program, which had centered on Berlusconi’s allegedly improper relations with underage women. He blasted the show as “a disgusting program with vile, obscene, repugnant presentation. A bawdy-house.”

Berlusconi accused Lerner of “false, distorted suppositions, far from the truth” and defended his relationship with Nicole Minetti, a dental hygienist whom he launched into politics and who is now under investigation as part of the sex scandal inquiries involving Berlusconi. When Berlusconi insulted female studio guests as “so-called ladies,” Lerner called him a “boor.”

Lerner is well known as a writer and public figure on the political left. He has also written extensively on Jewish issues, including his search for family roots in Ukraine. His name appeared on a “black list” of influential Italian Jews posted earlier this month on the neo-Nazi Stormfront website.

Italy’s Berlusconi narrowly survives no-confidence votes

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fended off challenges from the left and the right to narrowly survive two no-confidence votes in Parliament.

Protests broke out Tuesday in the streets of Rome following the vote, and the country’s political future remained unclear.

With the revolt by former ally Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi does not hold a clear enough majority in Parliament to govern effectively, and some analysts predicted that the embattled prime minister might resign and call early elections.

Political instability is not expected to have an immediate impact on Italy’s relations with Israel. Both Berlusconi and Fini, a former neo-fascist turned mainstream conservative, are outspoken supporters of the Jewish state. In Israel last month, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called Italy Israel’s “best friend” in Europe.

In Tuesday’s votes, Berlusconi’s government won a confidence motion in the Chamber of Deputies by just three votes, 314-311, with two abstentions. He won in the Senate by 162-135 with 11 abstentions.