Antagonism between Israel and Sweden over Swedish media accusation that IDF soldiers sold Arab body parts is heating up, in light of evidence that Sweden’s government funded the “research” for the story. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to demand a Swedish government condemnation of the accusations.
News of the funding was broken Sunday morning by Maariv/NRG. Maariv’s correspondent in Sweden, Liran Lotker, reports that most of the material in last week’s controversial article is old, having appeared in a book written in 2001 by the author of the article. The book, entitled Inshallah, was funded by various bodies, including the Foreign Ministry of Sweden, Swedish labor unions, and some organizations based in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said he would not grant work visas to Aftonbladet reporters in Israel, and the Government Press Office (GPO) says it will not, at this stage, grant press cards to Aftonbladet journalists. GPO Director Danny Seaman said newspapers such as Aftonbladet employ leftists in the guise of journalists, who later enter the country to participate in international protests against Israel.
The current controversy began last Tuesday, when Donald Bostrom authored an article in Sweden’s most popular newspaper, the Aftonbladet tabloid, accusing IDF soldiers of murdering Arabs and harvesting their organs. Bostrom based the story on testimony by several Arabs identified only by their first names, and told Voice of Israel Radio on Wednesday that he does not know for sure if their accounts are true.
When Israel immediately protested, Sweden’s Ambassador to Israel, Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, responded with a strong condemnation of the article – which the Swedish Foreign Ministry countered the next day by saying it does not represent the government’s position.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt later wrote on his blog that the government cannot get involved in “correcting all the strange claims in the media.” He compared the issue to a recent controversy over Muslim accusations that Swedish media articles had smeared Islam and Mohammed, and concluded, “I think we reached the understanding that it is through transparency that we best achieve the tolerance and understanding that are so important in our society. I believe that it is the same in this case.”
However, though the Swedish Foreign Ministry expressed a mild form of apology at the time, it has not done the same in this case vis-à-vis Israel. In addition, Sweden once closed an internet site that had been accused of offending Moslem sensibilities.
Blidt told reporters on Saturday, “There are very few bodies like the Swedish parliament in which opinion against pre-conceived notions and anti-Semitism is so strong, and therefore I don’t want to relate to that specific article.”
Others in Sweden, however, have reacted much more strongly against Israel. Aftonbladet itself headlined its Saturday edition with, “Israel fighting against Swedish freedom of the press,” and called for public support.
Popular Israeli journalist Ayala Hasson told Army Radio that freedom of the press has nothing to do with altering facts: “Freedom of the press means that one may comment as one sees fit – but it does not give license to report made-up ‘facts.’”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the article a “disgrace to Swedish journalism” and compared it to “dark blood libels from the Middle Ages.” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said, “The Jewish State cannot ignore manifestations of anti-Semitism, even if they appear in a respectable newspaper. Whoever is not willing to distance himself from such blood libels, may very well not be welcome here in Israel.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the article was a “natural continuation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and said that Sweden’s refusal to disassociate itself from it was reminiscent of its “neutral” stance during the Holocaust. Minister Limor Livnat demanded that the “Swedish government apologize for the blood libel against Israel.” Welfare Minister Yitzchak Herzog said that this was not a one-time incident, but rather a “media campaign that has been going on for years.”
Six months ago, Israelis had another unpleasant experience with Swedish journalism. Islamists fired rockets and threw pipe-bombs at pro-Israel demonstrators in the Swedish city of Malmö, injuring no one. At least one attacker was arrested, yet southern Sweden’s largest newspaper, Sydsvenskan, headlined its report, “Several arrested during Israel demonstration” and reported that "the anticipated violence did not occur."