European officials responded with "regret" Monday to Israel ambassador to Austria Dan Ashbel's decision to boycott a conference on racism in the media in Vienna Monday because of concern in Jerusalem that anti-Semitism was getting short shrift at the meeting.
"The European Commission regrets the decision of Israel's ambassador to Austria not to attend the public session of the conference since it would have been an opportunity to raise the concerns of the Government of Israel as regards manifestations of anti-Semitism in the media both in Europe and in the region," one European Commission official said.
The official said that anti-Semitism was not taken off the agenda of the conference, entitled "Racism, Xenophobia and the Media: Towards respect and understanding of all religions and cultures," and that the meeting was "primarily a dialogue between the media representatives of all the Euro-Med partners on the problems that beset their profession. These include xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. All these issues will be discussed freely and openly.
The Euro-Med partners include all the 25 EU countries plus Israel, the Palestinian Authority and eight Arab countries in the region.
The official said that Monday's keynote speech by European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner made "repeated specific references to the need to battle anti-Semitism alongside other forms of religious and ethnic bias."
Israel was angered that while the description of the conference it received in March said the conference would deal with various forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, a later description sent to Jerusalem in May eliminated references to anti-Semitism, while the program still included a report on Islamophobia.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem were also perturbed that in the conference program that they received no Israeli or Jewish speaker was included in any of the conference's panel discussions, and that it was apparent from the schedule that the focus would be on the depiction of Islam and Muslims in the media, especially in light of the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoon lampoon of Muhammad earlier in the year.
Officials in Jerusalem said that while this issue was worthy of discussion, there was also a real need at such a conference to discuss anti-Semitism in both the Arab and European media, and that by judging by the topics and the various panelists, this issue was not on the agenda.
European officials said Monday that David Meyer, a member of the Executive Board of the European Jewish Center for Information, was scheduled to take part in a panel at the conference on Tuesday.
Foreign Ministry officials, however, were surprised to hear this, saying that the invitation they received last week did not include Meyer, implying that he was only a last minute addition to the program.
These officials indicated that had Meyer been included in the earlier program that they received, Israel might not have felt the need to keep its ambassador from attending the parley.