Sweden won't decry 'Aftonbladet' article

Despite Israeli demands, PM insists "No one can demand that Swedish gov't violate its constitution."

carl Bildt 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy Talarforum [file])
carl Bildt 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy Talarforum [file])
The Israeli-Swedish ping-pong over an offensive article in the Swedish Aftonbladet daily continued over the weekend, with Jerusalem calling for a Swedish government condemnation of the article, and Stockholm pointedly refusing to do so. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's National Security Adviser Uzi Arad spoke over the weekend to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and called for a public condemnation. The phone call was initiated by Bildt, and came following a meeting in Stockholm on Friday between Israel's envoy, Benny Dagan, and Sweden's deputy foreign minister. Despite the meeting and the phone call, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on Saturday his government would not condemn the report. "No one can demand that the Swedish government violate its own constitution. Freedom of speech is an indispensable part of Swedish society," Reinfeldt was quoted as telling the Swedish news agency TT. The Swedish government removed a condemnation of the article posted Wednesday on its embassy's Web site in Tel Aviv. Israel is calling on the Swedish government to condemn the incendiary article that implied links between Palestinian claims that IDF soldiers killed Palestinians and harvested their organs, and the recent arrest in New Jersey of an American Jew suspected of illicit organ trafficking. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Friday that Israel was looking for a condemnation, not an apology. If a condemnation were not forthcoming, Bildt's planned visit to Israel in early September would be overshadowed by the controversy, Ayalon said. Foreign Ministry officials said there was, however, no talk of cancelling that meeting. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. Bildt, in an article posted on his personal blog Thursday evening, said, "Freedom of expression and press freedom are very strong in our constitution by tradition. And that strong protection has served our democracy and our country well. If I were engaged in editing all strange debate contributions in different media, I probably wouldn't have time to do much else." Bildt said he understood why the article stirred strong emotions in Israel, but that basic values in society were best protected by free discussion. He rejected claims that Sweden harbored anti-Semitic feelings, saying that the condemnation of anti-Semitism was the only issue in which he has been involved where there had ever been complete unity in the Swedish parliament. The reactions of the Swedish prime minister and foreign minister deeply disappointed Jerusalem, a senior diplomatic official said on Saturday night. "It is very disappointing that our sensitivities are a non-issue for the Swedish government," the official said. Yossi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Hebrew press, said the Swedish use of "freedom of the press" in this particular incident was an "excuse." "We are not asking them to harm freedom of the press," Levy said. "We respect it no less then they do. But just as the media has freedom of press, so the government has the same freedom to to express an opinion on the war against anti-Semitism." AP contributed to this report.