Italy: EU should condemn Aftonbladet article

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, says he has met with his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt to iron out a strategy for resolving the fallout from an article published in the Aftonbladet newspaper, which reported allegations that the Israeli army harvested the organs of dead Palestinians, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

But in a farcical twist, Bildt has denied that the two discussed the crisis or the Italian’s proposed solution.

Frattini told the newspaper he has met with Bildt, and the two agreed that at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers later this week, they will work to pass a resolution making it clear that the EU, under the Swedish presidency, strongly condemns anti-Semitism and will take action against any manifestation of it on the continent.

Frattini said he intends to demand that the meeting’s summary statement explicitly condemn the article published in Aftonbladet. He said his proposed statement would declare articles of this sort to be “acts of blatant anti-Semitism.”

“There are limits to freedom of the press that stem from respect for the truth and the duty of every journalist to prove his claims,” Frattini told Haaretz.

Frattini added that the accusations made in the Aftonbladet article are “terrible conclusions, lying and hurtful, and they have the power to assist all those who seek to incite against Jews or who oppose the existence of the State of Israel.”

However, Frattini defended Sweden’s position to refuse to condemn either the article or the newspaper: “The state cannot intervene in the work of the press. The journalists are the ones who must set limits for themselves and must find the right balance within the framework of the journalistic code of behavior.”

Frattini said that the Council of Ministers, which is scheduled to discuss the situation in the Middle East later this week in Stockholm, is the proper forum “for Sweden to prove, with concrete steps, its determined stance against anti-Semitism. It would be better for the Swedish response to be expressed there than via a government communique to the press.”

However, in a further twist to this diplomatic crisis that swings from the bad to the farcical, Bildt – in Kabul for talks with international representatives and Afghan officials – has flatly denied that he and Frattini even discussed Sweden’s standoff with Israel, according to the Swedish news agency TT.

Through the foreign ministry’s head of communications, Cecilia Julin, Bildt denied that he and Frattini had discussed the disagreement between Sweden and Israel over the Aftonbladet article, or that they had discussed a possible resolution by the Council of Ministers.

“From the Swedish side we have no plans to handle this question through the informal foreign ministers’ meeting in Stockholm,” said Julin. She also conveyed that Bildt had suggested that the proposal must have arisen through an “Italian misunderstanding.”

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether the Italian initiative would even satisfy Israel, which remains publicly incensed at Sweden’s refusal to condemn the Aftonbladet article published on August 17th. While the Israel Prime Minister’s office was not commenting on the proposal, the Foreign Ministry appeared to dismiss the proposal as irrelevant to the present crisis between the two countries.

“Every initiative against anti-Semitism is welcome,” said Yigal Palmor, a ministry spokesman. “But if the declaration is general and does not specifically relate to the article in Aftonbladet, it will not resolve anything.”

“We did not ask for an apology, or for measures against the newspaper or the journalist. All we asked of Sweden and the Swedes is that they reject and decry the content of the report. And our position has not changed,” he added.

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