Sweden Slow on Denouncing Libel

Swedish FM says report accusing IDF soldiers of killing Arabs for their organs is protected by freedom of the press. Israel may cancel his visit.

Tags: Jewish World
Gil Ronen ,

Carl Bildt
Carl Bildt
Creative Commons

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Friday on his Swedish-language blog that his government would not take action against Sweden’s most popular newspaper, Aftonbladet, which published a report that accused the Israel Defense Forces of killing young Arabs for harvesting their internal organs.

Bildt claimed that while Israel wanted his country to take the newspaper off the stands, Sweden had no intention of doing so. He did not say anything about the possibility of issuing a condemnation or apology, however – even though that is all that Israeli officials have been demanding.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yossi Levy said Friday that Israel is “disappointed by the long time it is taking the Swedish government to denounce the anti-Semitic article.”

Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden, Benny Dagan, has told the Swedish government that Israel holds it responsible for the slander and called upon the Swedes to “remove this cloud” from the relations between the countries before Foreign Minister Bildt’s planned visit to Israel September 10.

Haaretz reported that if the Swedes refuse to publish an official denouncement of the article, Israel might postpone Bildt’s visit. Another idea being mulled is that Israeli officials will receive Bildt but will refuse to discuss any other matter except the offensive article in talks with him.

In his blog, Bildt treated the Israeli rage over the publication as equivalent to the Muslim anger over a cartoon by Lars Vilks that appeared in 2007 in a Swedish paper, depicting Koran author Muhammad with the body of a dog. 

According to a report in a Swedish publication that appeared at the time, the Swedish Foreign Ministry expressed a mild form of apology over the cartoon ("The Chargé d'Affaires said he was sorry if the publication had hurt Muslim feelings") but said that freedom of the press is strongly protected in the Swedish constitution and that "Otherwise the Swedish government has no opinion on the matter." Iran,  Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Jordan had denounced the cartoon.

In his blog, Bildt wrote:

The fact that the article’s allegations aroused strong feelings in Israel is not difficult to understand. Bitter historical experience has led to a natural and strong sensitivity to insinuations or allegations that could unleash open anti-Semitism.

…Demands have been made in Israel that we in some way or other would remove this article from the public’s eye, or even intervene to prevent such articles from being published.

But that's not our country - and we will not do it.

If I devoted myself to correcting all the strange claims in the media, I would probably not have time to devote to very much else. And criticism of one item might be taken to mean that I think everything else is good.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are very strongly protected in our constitution… When we some time ago had an agitated discussion about what many perceived as a public smear of Islam and prophet Mohammed, 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.

So, I also believe that it is in this case.

[Translated with the help of Google Translator].

It should be noted that the controversy over the Lars Vilks cartoon is separate from the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy in Denmark, which occurred in 2005.