A Scandinavian-Italian with a hand to lend
Israel does not have many true friends on the Continent, friends like Frattini, Merkel and Sarkozy, who are ready to support Israel with all their heart, but also to frankly and roundly criticize it.
The "Scandinavian-Italian" is the way a profile on the BBC Web site described Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "Cool, calm and noncontroversial," the article said, Italy's foreign minister does not appear in the tabloids; he would never cheat on his wife. Quite a contrast with his boss, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
For more than a week now, Frattini has been avidly following the affair of the anti-Semitic article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Sorry for the crisis in Israel-Swedish relations, he has something to say to us.
Like his boss, Frattini also proclaims his commitment to an unremitting struggle against anti-Semitism. In his previous post, as vice president of the European Commission responsible for justice, freedom and security, Frattini initiated legislation making anti-Semitism a crime in all European Union countries. He is shocked at the "insulting and mendacious" report in Aftonbladet, which "might assist people inciting against Jews and those who oppose Israel's existence." He is also working to find a practical formula that will end the crisis and prove that Europe, led by Sweden, which now holds the EU presidency, is completely on board when it comes to uprooting anti-Semitism.
Like Berlusconi, the "Scandinavian Italian" is considered a wholehearted supporter of Israel. He is one of the architects of the idea of upgrading Israel's relations with the European Union and has worked energetically to this end. He often attacks the "double standards Europe employs in its attitude toward Israel." He is obviously identified with the newsletter published here under the auspices of the Italian Embassy that states proudly in its latest edition that Italy was the first country in the EU to host Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister.
Like his prime minister, Frattini supports a harsh policy toward Iran. He is sworn to protect Israel's security and is initiating a special conference of the G8, on September 24, to issue an "appropriate response" to the expansion of Iran's nuclear program.
Finally, Frattini, like "Il Cavaliere" Berlusconi, unconditionally supported the policy of the former American administration on the Iraq war, the global fight against terror and the parameters the Bush administration set for advancing peace in the Middle East.
However, Frattini is a serious diplomat. He is not one to refuse to admit mistakes, to err by shooting from the hip or embarrass his fellow countrymen by ridiculous slips of the tongue. Neither will he play up to his allies or conceal his criticism of them. It is important to him to distance himself from Bush's policy, "which has not proven itself," and to align himself with Obama's new policy on the Middle East and Iran; he feels the "very strict" policy of his Israeli counterpart with regard to settlements is distorted; he believes Netanyahu's comparison between the regime of the ayatollahs and the Nazi destruction machine is damaging and "dwarfs the uniqueness of the terrible Holocaust."
Frattini also views as mistaken ("despite the understandable sensitivity") the demand that Sweden officially intervene over a newspaper article, no matter how scandalous and outrageous.
The Iranian nuclear program, the peace process, Gilad Shalit and the latest crisis with Sweden that Frattini is working to bring to an end are just a few of the burning issues in which Israel needs European cooperation. Israel does not have many true friends on the Continent, friends like Frattini, Merkel and Sarkozy, who are ready to support Israel with all their heart, but also to frankly and roundly criticize it. Friends who work unceasingly to get Israel to look hard in the mirror and to save it from itself. Israel should be fostering these friendships. When needed, they could help it back out of the tightest corners.