Israel denounces Sweden's silence on IDF organ harvest article
Diplomatic strain rising over Sweden's refusal to condemn report, citing press freedom.
Israeli officials demanded that the Swedish government denounce a recent article by a top Swedish newspaper alleging that Israel Defense Forces soldiers kill Palestinian civilians in order to harvest their organs.
On Friday, the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan met with Deputy Foreign Minister of the Scandinavian country and urged his government to issue a denunciation of the article. Deputy Foreign Minister Frank Belfrage emphasized his country's freedom of speech and how it limits the ability of the government to respond to articles in the media.
Dagan rebuffed Belfrage's explanation, saying that in the past the Swedish government responded to similar articles and their reluctance to do so in this case has made it unclear what their stance is.
The stance of the Swedish deputy foreign minister was backed up on Saturday by the country's prime minister.
A Netanyahu aide said that "Israel does not wish to infringe upon the freedom of the press in Sweden. However, as much as the Swedish press is entitled to freedom, the Swedish government should enjoy the freedom of denouncing such reports."
The article claims that as far back as 1992, the IDF had removed organs from Palestinian youths killed in clashes. It also makes a link to an alleged crime syndicate in New Jersey, which includes several members of the American Jewish community, as well as one Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who faces charges of conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant.
Belfrage told Dagan that Bildt had responded to the article in a blog entry, which Dagan told him was not sufficient because it is unclear in a blog whether or not he is speaking as a private citizen or as the foreign minister.
Dagan then told Belfrage that the historical legacy of the Holocaust made the issue all the more important to Israelis, in that hateful words and anti-Semitism can often evolve into violent actions. Dagan also expressed his fear that the article could lead to violence against Jews.
Dagan told Belfrage that Israel believes the responsibility for cooling tensions over the article lies with the Swedish government, and said it was imperative for Sweden to resolve the crisis before the country's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt visits Israel on September 10th.
The meeting had been scheduled before the article was published, officials in the Swedish foreign ministry told local news agencies on Friday that it would now be used to address the escalating tension between the two countries.
Swedish officials said Thursday that comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in response to the article "had aroused anger" in Stockholm.
The article in Sweden's biggest-selling newspaper, first reported internationally by Haaretz.com on Tuesday, has sparked fierce widespread debate both in Sweden and abroad.
Lieberman on Thursday criticized Sweden for not intervening in "the blood libel against Jews." He said that "the affair is reminiscent of the state's [Sweden's] stand during World War II, when it also did not intervene."
On Thursday, Bildt rejected Israeli calls for an official condemnation of the article.
Lieberman had asked Bildt to print a a state rebuttal to the piece. Dagan was expected to make a similar request during his meeting with Swedish Foreign Ministry officials.
Bildt denied the request, however, writing in a blog post late Thursday that he would not condemn the article as "freedom of expression is part of the Swedish constitution."
"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," Bildt wrote.
"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 said basic values in society are best protected by free discussion.
The article has enraged Israeli officials, who called it blatantly racist and said it played on vile anti-Semitic themes.
Bildt, meanwhile, says the rejection of anti-Semitism is "the only issue on which there has ever been complete unity in the Swedish parliament."
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had been doubtful that the Swedish government would publish a condemnation of the article, and was considering other measures. One idea is to cancel an upcoming visit by Bildt to Israel, set take place in 10 days.
Another idea was to allow Bildt to make the visit, but to use the trip as a well publicized criticism of the article, and for Israeli officials to refuse to speak with him about any subject other than the article.
Foreign Ministry officials the crisis would not end without official Swedish condemnation of the article.
Lieberman has informed Foreign Ministry employees to consider the cancellation of government press cards given to Aftonbladet reporters in Israel, as well as to refuse to assist the paper in any way whatsoever in covering Israeli news.
It also emerged Thursday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak is considering a libel lawsuit against Donald Boström, the writer of the article. Boström has reportedly been trying to publish a version of the article about Israel harvesting organs since 1992.
The Swedish government on Thursday distanced itself from a statement by its ambassador to Israel, in which she criticized the article saying that "the condemnation was solely the judgment of the embassy [in Tel Aviv], and designed for an Israeli audience." The comments came in a statement released Thursday by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
"The article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet is as shocking and appalling to us Swedes, as it is to Israeli citizens," said Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier on Wednesday.
"Just as in Israel, freedom of the press prevails in Sweden," Bonnier said. "However, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are freedoms which carry a certain responsibility."