Israel disturbed by Swedish silence

TA ambassador condemns story, but no comment in Stockholm; Swedish Jews: Story doesn't resonate.

By JONAH NEWMAN
August 19, 2009 13:59

 
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Israel is "bothered" that the Swedish government has not publicly condemned in Stockholm an article that appeared in the mass-circulation Aftonbladet tabloid on Monday claiming IDF soldiers snatched body organs from dead Palestinians, the Foreign Ministry's senior deputy director-general said Wednesday. Rafi Barak relayed this message in two phone conversations he had on the subject during the day with Sweden's Ambassador to Israel Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, who issued a sharply worded statement saying the article was "as shocking and appalling to us Swedes as it is to Israeli citizens. We share the dismay expressed by Israeli government representatives, media and the Israeli public. This embassy cannot but clearly distance itself from it." According to the statement, "Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are freedoms which carry a certain responsibility. It falls on the editor-in-chief of any given newspaper." Foreign Ministry officials, while praising the Swedish envoy for her statement, said a similar one needed to be heard from the government in Stockholm and aimed not at the Israeli public, but at the Swedish one. "We are expecting that they will condemn this, as they did here," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "It is clear the government is not responsible, but it is important the government voice be heard on this inside Sweden." Palmor said that since Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, it was even more important - to preserve its image and reputation - for a strong condemnation to be made. This is something that is extremely dangerous because it could lead to hate crimes," Palmor said. "An orderly country that doesn't want civil unrest needs to make clear this is unacceptable." The article, in a convoluted and incendiary manner, tries to connect dots between Palestinian claims of IDF organ harvesting, to a murky incident in 1992 where a Palestinian family alleged the IDF snatched the organs from their son, to a campaign for Israeli organ donors that same year, to alleged illegal purchases of organs in Israel in the early 2000s, and to the recent story of American Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who was among those arrested recently in New Jersey and accused of illegally trafficking in human organs. In addition to Barak's conversations with Bonnier, Israel's Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan has been in contact with the Swedish Foreign Ministry about the matter. He has also contacted the newspaper itself for an apology, but has not received a reply. Israeli officials said there was some talk inside of Sweden of suing the paper over the article, although this would have to be done by private individuals, not the State of Israel. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, meanwhile, termed the article "a blood libel and the worst type of anti-Semitism." Ayalon called on the Swedish government to "condemn the accusations," and said, "we see a correlation between the government public statements, which are extremely critical of Israel, and anti-Semitism in the press." In recent months there has been some diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Earlier this month, after the eviction of two Palestinian families from Jewish-owned homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the Swedish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to protest the move. Israel responded by summoning Sweden's ambassador and saying that the Swedish government had taken an unfairly critical position toward Israel since assuming the EU presidency on July 1. Bonnier declined a request to be interviewed on the matter Wednesday. While the government in Stockholm had yet to be heard from, the article provoked strong reactions among Jews and non-Jews alike in Sweden itself, with some saying articles like this were not uncommon in the country. "I think it's devastating and totally unacceptable," Swedish MP Birgitta Ohlsson, who sits on the parliament's committee on foreign affairs, told The Jerusalem Post. "It's not the first time that we've seen similar stories in this paper. Of course independent newspapers in a liberal democracy should have the opportunity to criticize other countries, but this is crossing the line." The Jewish community in Sweden has not reacted as strongly, according to Lena Posner-Kerosi, the president of the official council of Jewish communities in Sweden, because of the fact that other newspapers haven't picked up the story and even rebuffed Aftonbladet for printing it. "This article is written in one newspaper by one person who is well known as being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic," Posner-Korosi said. "It doesn't create a lot of reaction in the Swedish public." While she wasn't surprised that Donald Bostrom, a freelance writer, wrote the piece, she said she was unclear as to why the newspaper, which has an estimated circulation of over 1 million readers daily, would publish it. In a phone conversation with the Post, Bostrom held that the article was "serious" journalism and that he was not trying to take a stand or express an opinion but rather to convey the feelings of the Palestinians with whom he spoke in research for a book in 1992. "For me this is normal journalistic work, it is not propaganda, it is not anti-Semitism," he said. "Nothing is fabricated." That was inconsistent with comments he made earlier in the day to Israel Radio, where he said he had "no clue" if the claims of the Palestinians that he quotes in the article were true or not. "It is time to shed light on this macabre activity and what has passed in the Israeli occupied territories since the intifada started," Bostrom wrote. Lisa Abramowicz, secretary-general of the Swedish-Israel Information Center, a small organization which works to combat anti-Israel bias in the Swedish media, said that stories like this are common in Sweden. "The situation is really, really, bad," she said of the anti-Israel sentiment in Swedish media. Abramowicz said that Swedish newspapers often make Israel out to be the enemy, while championing the Palestinian cause. Aftonbladet is the "worst," but not the only newspaper, in publishing partial rhetoric against Israel, she said, not only in its news articles but on its editorial page and in the culture section. "Some people are more equal than others, and Palestinians are more equal than any others in the Swedish media," Abramowicz said. "This is what we are force-fed with morning, day and night, even in the serious newspapers."

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