Fiamma Nirenstein cites ‘personal reasons’ for pulling out as Israeli ambassador-designate to Rome

Fiamma Nirenstein attends a meeting between Israeli MKs and European delegates to discuss the relations between the European Union and the Israeli parliament in 2009 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Fiamma Nirenstein attends a meeting between Israeli MKs and European delegates to discuss the relations between the European Union and the Israeli parliament in 2009 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)


Israel’s ambassador-designate to Italy has withdrawn her candidacy for the role following a cold response to the appointment from the Rome Jewish community and a string of complications that have arisen in the eight months since she was announced as a candidate by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Former Italian journalist and lawmaker Fiamma Nirenstein said Tuesday she had informed Netanyahu she would be renouncing her candidacy.

“I thank the prime minister for the trust he put in me. I would like to express my readiness to continue to contribute to the State of Israel as best I can,” she wrote in a statement.

Nirenstein told The Times of Israel the decision was based on “personal reasons,” but would not expand on the specific catalyst for Tuesday’s announcement. She did, however, adamantly deny Haaretz reports that the decision was due to harsh comments she made of the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu in a 1996 article, revealed by the paper three weeks ago.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm Nirenstein had officially withdrawn her candidacy but a spokesman said that her statement “speaks for itself.”

In March, Israel gave up on another Netanyahu-nominated would-be ambassador, ex-settler leader Dani Dayan, who was to have gone to Brazil, naming him consul-general to New York instead.

Netanyahu named Nirenstein, a former member of the Italian parliament, for the post on August 10, 2015, just two years after she moved to Jerusalem from Rome — where she had recently run, unsuccessfully, for the leadership of the Jewish community. According to diplomatic convention, an ambassador cannot hold the citizenship of the country he or she is serving in; Netanyahu said Nirenstein would give up her Italian passport after her appointment.

“I’m convinced that Fiamma Nirenstein will bring with her to the position lots of diplomatic and political experience, and will succeed in deepening the relationship between Israel and Italy, our close friends, and act for diplomatic, economic, cultural and security cooperation,” Netanyahu declared at the time.

But Nirenstein’s nomination was controversial from day one, raising eyebrows among Israeli career diplomats and concerns in Italy’s Jewish community.

For one, Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that Nirenstein had not been living in Israel for a significant period of time. Furthermore, they pointed out that she had only recently quit her job as an Italian legislator and that her son was working for Italy’s secret service, making her an awkward choice for ambassador to the country.

Her nomination was also criticized by some Italian Jews, who were concerned that a former Italian parliamentarian now returning to her native land as a representative of another state could spark wider dual loyalty accusations. Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, for instance, said he feared “there may be problems… Just read what’s already on the social networks about her dual citizenship.”

In March, a Foreign Ministry official slammed Nirenstein for promoting her new book at public events in Italy, accusing her of violating diplomatic protocol. “It is not acceptable for an ambassador to work in the country she will serve, before she has been confirmed,” the unnamed official told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

Fiamma Nirenstein (screen capture YouTube/radioies)
Fiamma Nirenstein (screen capture YouTube/radioies)


Usually, the process from an ambassador’s nomination to his or her approval by the Israeli cabinet takes no more than a few weeks but it was not until last month, over seven months since her candidacy was first announced, that the government requested Nirenstein appear before a committee at Israel’s Civil Service Commission, a step needed before the cabinet can discuss the appointment.

Nirenstein was the Israel correspondent for newspapers La Stampa and Panorama between 1991 and 2006, according to her website. Before returning to Italy to become a politician, she had lived in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for years, acquaintances of hers told The Times of Israel. In the early 1990s, she also directed the Cultural Institute of the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Born in Florence, Nirenstein, the author of a dozen books and a regular blogger at The Times of Israel, was elected to the Italian parliament in 2008 as a member of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom party. She served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Her term ended in March 2013 — two months before she made aliyah and became an Israel citizen and less than three years before Netanyahu would tap her as ambassador to Italy.

As reported by The Times of Israel