Italy prides itself on its reputation for successful mediation in international conflicts. On this premise, it has now stepped in to attempt a solution for an issue perceived by Israel as well as some Italian journalists, as motivated by bias.
Following heated criticism in the Italian press of the recent expulsion of the National Federation of Israeli Journalists (NFIJ) from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Secretary General of the Italian Federation (FNSI), Franco Siddi, has sent a letter to his Israeli counterpart extending "a warm and sincere invitation" to meet either in Rome or Israel, offering his union's services for mediation in healing the rift.
"We have always greatly appreciated the autonomy of the Israeli press and want to make clear that we harbor absolutely no anti-Israel sentiments," Siddi told The Jerusalem Post. "We want to build bridges, otherwise any talk of ethical principals becomes empty propaganda."
Although the Israeli NFIJ Federation feels it was expelled for political reasons, Aidan White, secretary-general of the IFJ, stated in a note that "The decision to expel was financial alone…the Israeli union has not paid any fees at all since 2005…the longest time in debt of any union in the IFJ."
Other unions expelled in recent years for not paying dues include Chile, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Korea, Kenya and Thailand, White said.
The decision was unanimous and "the Executive Committee did not discuss any political related issues when it dealt with these matters", said White, although he admits there have been "disagreements over IFJ criticism of the Israeli state, but only on matters related to military attacks on media and free movement of journalists."
While the Israeli union feels the IFJ's report on Operation Cast Lead was biased because it failed to contact Israeli sources, White states the focus of the mission was purely on "the conditions and circumstances of Palestinian journalists and media."
He recognizes that "Israeli journalists have sought to report the crisis fairly under difficult conditions" and "they, too were victims of the media blockade imposed by Israel…."
In another Italian attempt to solve the situation - mainly by circumventing the IFJ and considering the creation of a new regional body - Lorenzo Del Boca, president of the National Order of Italian Journalists in cooperation with the Israeli Embassy, organized a meeting in Rome last week with five individual Israeli journalists including Haim Shiki (a member of the NFIJ Israeli Union), Arik Bacha (secretary-general of the Israel Press Council), and Yosi Bar-Moha (director-general of the Tel Aviv Association.
Del Boca was invited to attend the Eilat annual meeting of the Israeli press in November.
Del Boca's guild, the National Order, is a later offspring of the 101-year-old Italian Federation (FNSI), and was created to deal with qualifying exams for prospective journalists and related issues. Strictly speaking, unlike the FNSI, which represents the broader union interests of all Italian journalists, it has no bargaining power with the IFJ.
The FNSI, said Siddi, boasts a long history of actively supporting freedom of speech. During the Cold War years, he recalls, the FNSI was a neutral meeting ground for discussions between the Western and Soviet block journalistic unions.
Siddi would like to avoid the defeat of a split-off of the Israeli journalists from the IFJ. He feels it is very important that Israel's union be reintegrated into the international federation.
"If there are problems, let's face them openly" he said. "We would welcome a meeting between the FNSI and the Israeli NFIJ, either in Italy or in Israel, to examine all issues and work towards a solution to present to the IFJ."
Siddi also made these points at a young Italian Jewish journalists seminar currently taking place in Trieste, where he was a guest speaker.
Whether or not the financial issue is based on bias is one of the problems that remains to be solved. Israel is the only country in its region to be charged the same annual fees as European countries.
Israel has contested this evaluation. Politically, since the Israeli press is among the most independent in the world, it also demands higher representation in the IFJ's organs and more possibilities for contacts with journalistic colleagues from Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and so on.
A financial compromise (waiving past dues but maintaining the higher rate in the future, with a small discount) has been offered, but it isn't clear whether the Israeli journalists are willing to accept this.