Sweden denies nixing trip over IDF story

Officials in Stockholm deny Bildt cancelled Israel visit because of controversial 'Aftonbladet' article.

carl bildt 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
carl bildt 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Swedish officials on Sunday denied that Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt canceled a planned trip to Israel this Friday because of Israeli anger at his government's refusal to condemn an article in a Swedish newspaper accusing IDF soldiers of killing Palestinians and harvesting their organs. While Swedish officials told The Jerusalem Post late last week that the visit was in doubt, Israeli diplomatic officials said Saturday night that the visit had definitely been canceled. Anna Brodin, political officer at the Swedish consulate in Jerusalem, said on Sunday that Bildt has put off his visit in the hope Mideast peacemaking would progress during the UN General Assembly later this month. "It has been delayed until after the General Assembly in New York, when there might be more substance in the process," Brodin said. But in Stockholm, Bildt spokeswoman Irena Busic denied the foreign minister had canceled a trip to Israel, saying a date had never been set. Now was not a good time for such a trip, she said, citing logistical reasons and the "situation in the peace process." Both Swedish officials denied the article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet had anything to do with Bildt's travel plans. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was considering not meeting Bildt unless he condemned the article in the tabloid Aftonbladet, something the Swedish government - citing freedom of the press - had adamantly refused to do. Netanyahu gave vent to Israel's disappointment over the matter during a meeting last week in Jerusalem with visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. During that meeting, Netanyahu said that no one was expecting the Swedes to restrict freedom of the press, but that it was reasonable to expect the government to speak out against the type of defamation that in the past had led to the mass murder of Jews. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Bildt's failure to visit here will have an impact on the country's ability during its term as president to have any real say on the diplomatic process. Ironically, while the Swedes continued to refuse to condemn the article, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos said Saturday in Stockholm that he regretted the Spanish newspaper El Mundo's decision to run an interview Saturday with Holocaust denier David Irving as part of a retrospective on the start of World War II 70 years ago. "The foreign minister, while maintaining the most absolute respect for freedom of expression, regrets that space was given to a historian who denies one of the biggest tragedies for humanity in modern history," a spokesman for Moratinos said. "These types of statements deeply hurt the Jewish people." Moratinos was in Stockholm for a meeting of EU foreign ministers. He is scheduled to arrive in Israel for meetings on Wednesday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor applauded Moratinos for his statement. "He understood the heart of the matter in this case, and did the right thing," Palmor said. Despite protests from Israel's envoy in Spain, Raphael Schutz, and a number of respected historians, including Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, the Spanish paper ran the interview as planned Saturday as part of a series of interviews with six World War II "experts." An interview with Shalev ran on Thursday. The paper distanced itself from Irving's views, saying in an editorial that ran on Saturday, "We don't agree with the majority of what he says, but we defend his right to say it." Schutz and Avner wrote the paper that its publishing the interview with a notorious Holocaust denier, alongside respected historians, gave Irving undeserved legitimacy and left the impression that there was no historical truth, only competing narratives - one as legitimate as the next.