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(photo credit: AP)
"War to the bitter end," quoting Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was the front-page headline on many of the large German dailies on Tuesday. The international press and political reaction to the military operation in Gaza has been generally mixed, but the spectre of increased anti-Israeli reactions in Central Europe looms large.
On Monday, Germany's most popular daily, the tabloid Bild, published a commentary from Israeli author Amos Oz.
Oz wrote that "the systematic bombardment of Israeli civilians in residential areas is a war crime and a crime against humanity," and stressed the necessity of Israel's self-defense measures.
In the same issue, Bild dubbed its lead news story "Israel strikes back," and reported that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats had sharply criticized Hamas's actions but urged Israel to respect the need of a proportional military response.
In contrast, Steinmeier's coalition partner, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union, said in a conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the responsibility for the conflict lies "clearly and exclusively" with Hamas, according to her spokesman Thomas Steg. Merkel demanded that Hamas "immediately and permanently" stop its rocket attacks on Israel.
At a meeting of the European Union's foreign ministers in Paris on Tuesday, Michael Spindelegger, Austria's new conservative party minister, criticized the IDF operation, saying "the scores of civilian victims over the last few days are unacceptable." He referred to a request of the EU that Israel "avoid a disproportional" response to Hamas rocket attacks.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, the general secretary of Vienna's Jewish Community, Raimund Fastenbauer, slammed Spindelegger for not pinning the blame on Hamas.
Fastenbauer praised the remarks of the Czech Republic's Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenbergher, who said in an interview with the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes: "Let us realize one thing: Hamas steeply increased the number of rockets fired at Israel since the cease-fire ended on December 19. This is no longer acceptable."
Israel's ambassador in Vienna, Dan Ashbel, told the Post that while Merkel and Schwarzenbergher had issued "clear words" regarding Hamas triggering the conflict, it cannot be said that in Spindelegger's remarks "there is a lack of condemnation of Hamas and [of any mention of] Israel's right to self-defense."
Ashbel rejected Spindelegger's claim that Israel was employing disproportionate force and said a lack of information was evidenced in the foreign minister's assertion that there was an immediate need for humanitarian aid in Gaza. Ashbel noted that Israel had allowed 60 trucks with supplies to enter the Strip.
"It is quite a mixed picture in the media" in Austria, he said. While Austrian press coverage is considered slanted against Israel, interviews with Ashbel and Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev have appeared in a number of dailies. Yet the right-leaning tabloid Ã–sterreich splashed "Israel's bloody revenge" as its lead headline on Sunday.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, like her Austrian and German counterparts, declined to see Hamas as responsible for instigating the Israeli counterattacks, and on the ministry's web site she "condemns the disproportionate reaction of the Israeli military."
Relations between Calmy-Rey's ministry and Israel are strained because of her decision to broker an â‚¬18 billion gas deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last March.
Anti-Israeli demonstrations have taken place in Bern, Geneva and Vienna. Roughly 2,000 protesters, most of Palestinian and Arab descent, marched on Monday in Berlin, chanting "Death to Israel" and "F***ing Jews."
The Berlin police confirmed to the Post that a protester was arrested for holding a sign equating the Star of David with a swastika. Scores of anti-Israeli banners were waved, including ones reading "The cause of the violence is Zionism" and "Israeli warmongers, biggest threat to world peace."
The general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan J. Kramer, slammed German politicians and the indifference of German society toward Israel's precarious security situation: "It is also forgotten that the same fighters for human rights, including German politicians, accepted months of missile terrorism and did nothing to effectively oppose the terrorist organization Hamas... It was Hamas that unilaterally ended the cease-fire and returned to terror, without a cry of indignation being heard in German politics or society."
Ilan Mor, the chargÃ© d'affaires at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, told the Post that the "current press coverage could be better" in Germany. He complained about one-sided media coverage of the Palestinians in Gaza that ignored the "permanent threat" of Hamas missile attacks faced by the residents of Sderot.