Is the crisis in relations between Israel and Sweden coming to an end? That is what Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, would like to believe.
In a telephone conversation with Haaretz, Frattini said he recently met with his Swedish counterpart, Carl 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 the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, which claimed that Israeli soldiers harvested the organs of dead Palestinians. 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 explained.
The accusations 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," he added.
However, Frattini stressed, "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 is why the Council of Ministers, which is scheduled to discuss the situation in the Middle East later this week, is the correct 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."
The Italian foreign minister does not believe that the crisis with Sweden, the current president of the EU, have affect relations between Israel and Europe in general. As one of the architects of an agreement to upgrade ties between the EU and Israel, he is encouraged by the fact that Italian pressure led to a decision that separates progress in the peace process from implementation of the agreement.
Some in Israel will argue that in this conclusion, the Italian minister is being influenced by what he wants to believe. But Frattini is convinced that he is right. "Now that the agreement has been adopted, there is no turning back," he said. "No country will block implementation of the upgrade."
The Prime Minister's Office opted not to comment on the Italian-Swedish initiative for bringing the crisis to an end. In contrast, the Foreign Ministry's position was clear.
"Every initiative against anti-Semitism is welcome," said Yigal Palmor, that ministry's 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," he added. "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."
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