An op-ed piece that labeled terrorist attacks in Israel “expressions of desperate resistance” and argued that such acts cannot be compared to similar deadly assaults in Europe, published in a leading Austrian newspaper, elicited criticism from those who claimed that the decision to give the author a stage gives her views undeserved legitimacy.
The column, written by Liza Ulitzka and published in Wiener Zeitung, came in response to expressions of solidarity from European leaders towards Israel following a vehicular attack that claimed the lives of four IDF soldiers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced hours after the incident that, in light of the deadly attack in Berlin only weeks before, her country feels a “special bond” with Israel.
Ulitzka’s piece took issue with Merkel’s words and similar statements, saying that “attacks in Europe and Israel have nothing in common politically, even if many would so much like to believe they do.” She goes on to differentiate between attacks on military personnel, as was the case in the latest terror strike in Israel, and civilians who were victims in Berlin, as well as arguing that the background of Israeli-Palestinian relations makes the situations incomparable.
Raimund Fastenbauer, who serves as secretary general of the Jewish Community of Vienna, told Hamodia that the decision to give the article a mainstream forum was “wrong,” but “not a surprise.”
“It’s a bad sign … [but] it’s a problem in Europe in general that there is a double standard applied to what goes on in Israel and that a very one-sided view is presented. It’s nothing new,” he said.
Despite the coverage that the article garnered in some English-language Jewish media, Fastenbauer said it had received little attention from Jews living in Austria, and that while many European publications have a consistent anti-Israel bias, Wiener Tzeitung is generally not among them.
Thomas Seifert, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, defended the decision to run the op-ed.
“I could have stopped it, but I decided that it is within the realm of debate,” he told Hamodia. “This is something that you would hear [from pro-Palestinian voices] in the region. You can agree or disagree, but it’s not outrageous.”
Mr. Seifert said that while Wiener Tzeitung is much more “stringent” with its own editorials, it takes a far more liberal approach with op-ed pieces which are meant “to spark debate,” but do not represent the position of the paper.
He added that he had received a complaint from the Israeli embassy about Ulitzka’s article and responded that if they would like to pen a rebuttal, Wiener Tzeitung would publish it as soon as possible.
Dr. Walter Hämmerle, a spokesman for the newspaper, reinforced this neutral position on op-eds and told Hamodia that while in general such articles do not represent the editorial staff’s views, “I can assure you, this one certainly does not.”
Criticism from sources based in America pointed to the fact that Wiener Tzeitung is a government-owned and -funded entity, saying that it behooved a higher level of scrutiny in choosing what messages to publicize.
However, both Mr. Seifert and Thorsten Eisingerich, a spokesman for the Austrian embassy in Washington, D.C., told Hamodia that content of Wiener Tzeitung is entirely in the hands of its independant editorial board, similar to the BBC or NPR, and is not a government mouthpiece.
Mr. Eisingerich explained that while the paper does contain a section, known as the “Amtsblatt,” which is used for official state announcements, the government ‘‘has no influence whatsoever” on the rest of Wiener Tzeitung’s content.