Jewish World: When you're right, you're wrong

Israelis are convinced the Swedes agree with 'Aftonbladet' and the Swedes are convinced that Israel tramples on free speech; those caught in the middle must pick up the pieces.

aftonbladet 248 (photo credit: )
aftonbladet 248
(photo credit: )
The debate has come and gone. The content of the accusation against Israel has been completely undermined - even by the reporter who brought the accusation of organ-harvesting in the first place. Now, with large swaths of the Israeli public convinced the Swedish state more-or-less agrees with the article it refuses to repudiate, and the Swedish public increasingly convinced that Israel is the aggressive trampler of rights its devoted enemies claim it to be, it is left to those stuck in the middle to try to pick up the pieces. For Sweden's Jews and Israel advocates, the aftermath of the debate will linger for some time. Lena Posner, head of the official council of Jewish communities in Sweden, believes it was "the Israeli government's disproportional reaction" that brought the debate to this sad conclusion. "It blew the focus away from the article and its anti-Semitic insinuations, and the responsibility of Aftonbladet for publishing such crap," she says. The article's author, freelancer Donald Bostrom, and the newspaper itself are known for their anti-Israel views, and mainstream Swedish media outlets were already condemning the article before the Israeli response shifted the debate to the question of government interference in the media, she says. What's wrong with Israel's demand that the government express an opinion on the article? "In Sweden it doesn't work like that," says Posner. "Only if the media write directly about a minister, the minister might be asked to comment about the content. You can't trust the media here, but to deal with them you have to understand they have their own life. There is an ombudsman, and legal actions that can be taken. But you absolutely cannot [deal with] the media via the government. "I can understand the sensitivity in Israel, especially as a Jew," she continues. "Sweden hasn't been in war for hundreds of years and hardly has an army. It's a completely different sensitivity and much more is at stake for Israel. For Sweden, nothing is at stake." But to engage in a debate in Sweden, Israel "has to understand how the Swedish constitution functions and how sacred that is." The result of Israel's carelessness has meant that "we are playing into the hands of [Israel's enemies and local anti-Semites]. Things could have been done that could have been good for Israel politically if it had been done in a different manner," Posner said. "This is a country that's not so pro-Israel in the first place, but now even Israel's friends are torn between the two - Aftonbladet, which we all hate, and [freedom of the press]. We could have won so many points, but now Israel is ridiculed in Sweden even among its friends." ACCORDING TO Helena Skibinski, 30, a biologist and Jew who is active in pro-Israel events in the country, "Israel reacted the way you react in Israel, but in Sweden the laws and the mentality are different. I think we should have reacted in a way that considers how things work in Sweden, and what actually can be done." Skibinski supports the basic premise of the Israeli demand - "it's quite important to make sure that freedom of speech is not used to spread lies" - but not the way Israel has presented this demand. "I think there are better ways. Israel asked something of Sweden that is not possible," she says. That's a shame, because the problem is real. "You feel the hatred toward Israel in Sweden. You feel it as something against the Jews, at least for me, because it affects the Jews. If I tell people I'm going to Israel, they say, 'How can you support such a horrible country?' You always have to defend Israel if you're Jewish. I don't say to people that I'm Jewish anymore. "It's not that Swedes are anti-Semitic," she adds quickly. "But many people are part of this whole movement where the Palestinians fit very well into this idea of the [unfortunate]. So even though the values of the Swedes are more like the Israelis - the Palestinians are not feminist or democratic - they blindly support the Palestinians." The crisis has been closely watched not only in the Swedish Jewish community, but in the broader European scene as well. According to Serge Cwejgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, there is less understanding of the Swedish position outside Sweden itself. "It's unheard of that based on freedom of speech one could simply tolerate, without criticism, the spread of hate," he says of the government's refusal to condemn the article. "Why is the government reluctant to take a strong stand against an article which is, at least, a vicious anti-Semitic lie based on no evidence? The authorities should take a stand." According to Cwejgenbaum, "The best outcome would be for a condemnation of the journalist himself. You can't publish without evidence. There must be an accounting. You cannot simply write whatever you feel like as fact. It's shocking. We all have the right to criticize Israel and its policies, but not to mix clichés about the Jewish people and to offend the Jewish state in such a way - it's purely gratuitous."