Italian journalists stand up for their ousted Israeli colleagues

Israeli journalists' federation blasts int'l body, welcomes Italian invitation to mediate its return.

journalists media 248.88.ap (photo credit: AP)
journalists media 248.88.ap
(photo credit: AP)
The National Federation of Israeli Journalists (NFIJ) has accepted an invitation by the Italian National Press Federation (NFSI) to meet, either in Rome or in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to negotiate a solution that will reintegrate Israel into the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), trusting in Italy's support for Israel's "full and equal" membership. The NFIJ was recently expelled from the International Federation ostensibly "for "financial reasons alone" according to Aidan White, the IFJ Secretary General. White states the NFIJ "has not paid any fees since 2005," but he also admits "strong feelings that the problems between us are less to do with financial considerations." The NFIJ's letter to Franco Siddi, secretary general of the Italian federation, states that "the real break came for reasons heavier than money." Among several examples, Arik Bachar, secretary general of the Israeli Press Council, recalls that the IFJ complied with pressure by Jordan's national press association by failing to invite Israel to a recent international meeting in Amman. The financial problem also seems tinged with prejudice. While different ranges of dues are applied to European and Middle East countries, the top EU rate was demanded of Israel in view of its pro capita income being significantly higher than that of its neighbors. The Israelis, however, felt a compromise was in order. "On March 19, we shook hands with Aidan White in Tel Aviv to seal an agreement in which we would have paid a lump sum for our debts plus an established annual amount ranging between the Middle East and the European rates" said Bachar. "But after leaving Israel and consulting with the IFJ Executive Committee, Aidan reneged on our agreement, and the next thing we knew, we were expelled. This came as a complete surprise." The IJF site details a "generous" offer refused by Israel, subsequent to March 19 and prior to Israel's expulsion, to cancel three years of the NFIJ's past debts. The reason for Israel's refusal of this offer, says Arik, was that the annual fee for Israel had once more been set at the "highest end of the scale," equal to that of Europe's wealthiest nations. The underlying problems are well defined in a scathing letter sent to Aidan White on Monday by Yossi Bar Moha, secretary general of the Tel Aviv Journalists Union. "We fail to see why we should be turned into a frequent punching bag during international gatherings of the IFJ," he wrote. "For example, you have sharply criticized the Israeli media for failing to condemn the Israel Air Force attack on the Al-Manar television station in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. This is a station which is anything but a media outlet - openly calling for the destruction of Israel and serving as a propaganda arm of Hizbullah and Iran." Bar Moha described the IFJ's position as "tantamount to a criticism of Britain for attacking a German TV station during the Second World War." He pointed out the IFJ's bias in failing to also condemn the Lebanese and Palestinian news media for their silence "when missiles fired from these territories injured Israeli journalists in northern Israel and around the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2009." Yossi urged White to "stop promoting divisive policies and instead start promoting dialogue and cooperation within the universal fraternity of journalists." Franco Siddi has offered Italy's support on all these issues and assured the Jerusalem Post that he was flanked by such countries as Denmark, Holland, the USA and Australia. "The IFJ has a democratic structure so we can all work together. If Israel abandons the scene, the anti-Israel block will grow stronger" he said, "and we are against this." Siddi agreed with Bar Moha's description of Israeli journalists as being "vibrant, free and open." He said he considers Israel one of the rare countries where media can and does counterbalance political power. One of the Israeli federation's prime goals in seeking to reinforce its international role is to build better communication with Arab journalists. On behalf of the NFIJ, Hika Ginossar, Avi Paz, Yosi Bar Moha, Haim Shibi and Arik Bachar wrote to Siddi, "We welcome your helping hand in building a professional non-political bridge between us and those journalists on the Palestinian side who are interested in cooperation and mutual professional help." Both the Israeli and the Italian Journalist Federations lamented not having received any minutes regarding the June 7 Oslo IFJ meeting that "unanimously" voted for Israel's expulsion - a decision, if not challenged or appealed, that will be approved in May, 2010 at the IFJ meeting in Cadiz, Spain.