'Swedish officials may be unwelcome'

Steinitz says there's a crisis with the Swedish gov't; Netanyahu: We demand a formal condemnation.

Israeli officials were active on all fronts Sunday in denouncing an article in a Swedish newspaper that accused IDF soldiers of harvesting the organs of Palestinians, and the Swedish government's reluctance to condemn the claims. Ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting expressed outrage at the article and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz went so far as to say that those who refuse to condemn such libel "may not be welcome in the state of Israel." While Steinitz did not specify his meaning, his comments were possibly a reference to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who is set to visit Israel in early September but has rejected calls to condemn the story. "We have a crisis until the Swedish government responds differently," Steinitz said. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "We demand and expect a formal condemnation by the Swedish government, and not an apology for the claims." He was responding to Sweden's indignation at what it perceives as a request to limit freedom of speech. Netanyahu noted that during the term of Ehud Olmert as prime minister, an Israeli TV show offended Christians, "and Olmert condemned this, without harming freedom of speech." The prime minister said that Israel has always known how to deal with blood libels and "we expect the Swedish government to deal with it as well." Joining in the chorus, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that he would act to prevent reporters for the paper from receiving work permits in Israel, and Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said that Israel should take legal steps against the paper in order to combat the claims. Later in the day Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the government's position would not have been as sharp had Sweden not reprimanded its own envoy for condemning the inflammatory article. The foreign minister said there was a degree of hypocrisy in the Swedish position - claiming they don't interfere in freedom of the press - when in 2006 the Swedish foreign minister sent a letter to a Yemenite leader apologizing for offensive caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. In related news, two visiting journalists for the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet which ran the story arrived at the Government Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem Sunday to request press accreditation, Israel Radio reported. GPO Director Danny Seaman told the radio station that he had instructed his employees to take as much time as is needed and allowed by regulations - up to three months - to review the request. Seaman said that the two journalists, a reporter and a cameraman, had responded angrily and even "rudely" to the news that the review process may take time. Seaman asked his employees to explain to the two that the process may take some time due to checks that must be made, including - he said jokingly - blood tests to check the reporters' blood types and eligibility for organ transplant. On a more serious note, Seaman said that Aftonbladet's conduct would be taken into account in considering the new requests. He added that reporter Donald Bostrom, who wrote the offending article, had entered the West Bank under false pretense years ago, claiming to be writing for the paper but actually using the material for a book. Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan lashed out at a Swedish reporter Sunday who asked him whether Israel should investigate the claims. "You know what, I have a suggestion for you," Dagan retorted. "Why won't you investigate why the Mossad and the Jews were behind the bombing of the twin towers? Why won't we investigate why Jews are spreading AIDS in the Arab countries? Why won't we investigate why Jews killed [Christian children to bake Matzot on Pessah]?" Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported Sunday that Bostrom's 2001 book Inshallah, which deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reportedly included the allegations of organ harvesting, was financed - among other bodies - by the Swedish Foreign Ministry. There has been no response to the claim so far. The Jewish community in Sweden, meanwhile, was critical of Israel's role in the media storm. Community leader Lena Posner-Korosi told Army Radio on Sunday that the Israeli reaction and media outrage had provided the claims with much more exposure than they would have had otherwise, and blown the story out of proportion. The article in question 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. Israel has demanded that the Swedish government distance itself from the claims, which officials have called a new blood libel against the Jews. But both the Swedish prime minister and the foreign minister have refused to do so, saying that freedom of the press must be respected at all costs. Herb Keinon contributed to this report