BERLIN - Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, said Sunday that Israel's demand that Sweden officially condemn the article that accused Israel Defense Forces of harvesting Palestinian organs "had blown the issue completely out of proportion.

"No one even noticed the article - which is, incidentally, anti-Semitic and absolutely untruthful - when it was buried in the last pages of Aftonbladet," Posner explained. "But the Israeli response pushed the journalist who wrote it, Daniel Bostrom, to the front of the stage and into the heart of the Swedish mainstream."

"What's even worse is that by making the preposterous demand for a government condemnation, the debate has changed from anti-Semitism to freedom of speech in Sweden: Instead of concentrating on debunking the story, they have made it a freedom of speech issue. The government is not going to condemn the article - freedom of speech here is sacrosanct," added Posner, who said she could see how the Swedish mainstream media, which at first attacked the tabloid for printing the piece, were now supporting it, based on the principle of preserving the freedom of speech.

The editorials in leading Swedish newspapers took a similar stand, rallying behind that principle and condemning the Israeli demands. "Freedom of speech is not something to apologize for," said a Svenska Dagbladet editorial this weekend. The daily also criticized the statement issued by the Swedish ambassador to Israel, Elisabeth Borsiin Bonnier, claiming the Swedish public was "appalled" by the article.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet also attacked the envoy, with an editorial that asked: "Since when was it the role of the government to represent, through its ambassador, the opinions of all Swedes, and to criticize the journalistic consideration of the free media?"

The results of a poll conducted by Svenska Dagbladet showed that 66 per cent of the 1,300 respondents ruled out offering any apology to Israel, 31 percent said the Aftonbladet should apologize, and only 3 percent supported a formal apology by the Swedish government. In addition, 92 percent of the 4,500 participants in a survey taken by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper said that Israel's demand for an apology was "unreasonable."