Netanyahu to Sweden: Condemn IDF Organ Harvesting Article

Steinitz: Anyone unwilling to condemn such a blood libel could be considered unwanted in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for the Swedish government to condemn an article in a Stockholm newspaper suggesting Israel Defense Forces troops harvested the organs of Palestinians they killed.

An official present at the weekly session of the cabinet said Netanyahu told his ministers he did not expect the Swedish government to apologize for the article in the tabloid Aftonbladet but he did expect it to take a stand.

"We're not asking the Swedish government for an apology, we're asking for their condemnation," the official - speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with Cabinet rules - quoted Netanyahu as saying.

The prime minister added that the story was "reminiscent of medieval libels that Jews killed Christian children for their blood," said the official.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has already rejected Israeli calls for an official condemnation.

Some in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction over an entry in the personal blog of Sweden's foreign minister, which led some here to believe the official stance in Stockholm has softened.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz strongly criticized the Swedish government on Sunday, saying that its silence in face of the Aftonbladet article charging IDF soldiers with harvesting organs from dead Palestinians is tantamount to a diplomatic crisis.

"Anyone who is unwilling to condemn such a blood libel could be considered unwanted in Israel," Steinitz said.

The finance minister added that the "Swedish government cannot remain indifferent, and the crisis will remain until Sweden responds in a different manner."

"Israel cannot ignore such a manifestation of anti-Semitism," Steinitz said.

Meanwhile, the Government Press Office (GPO) said Sunday that it would delay staff members of a Swedish newspaper that published an article accusing the IDF of harvesting the organs of Palestinian civilians from receiving press credentials

The reporter and photographer, who are not the newspaper's usual reporters in Israel, arrived at the GPO with a letter sent by the paper asking them to provide them with the appropriate press credentials needed to pass into the Gaza Strip.

The GPO responded that the process could take up to three months.

GPO head Danny Seaman said that "we have 90 days to look into the request and we will conduct as thorough a probe as possible," adding that "in the case of this newspaper, we will look into even the most insignificant bureaucratic detail."

Seaman added that the GPO "has dealt with people impersonating as reporters in order to get into Gaza in the past, so we have passed their information to the IDF so that forces on the ground can be aware of their presence."

In his personal blog, Bildt suggests that articles like the one in the evening tabloid Aftonbladet may lead to hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism.

During the weekend Israel stepped up pressure on Sweden by relaying sharply worded messages via various channels, insisting the government there issue an official condemnation of the article.

The pressure involved efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister's Bureau and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, who called Bildt over the weekend.

A political source in Jerusalem told Haaretz that even though Arad and Bildt have known each other for some time, and both have participated in the Atlantic Forum discussions, the conversation was unpleasant.

Arad described the article in the Swedish newspaper as "abominable" and protested the fact that the Swedish government did not support the condemnation issued by its ambassador to Israel last week.

"The article is a blood libel of the worst sort," Arad told Bildt. "The absence of your response reflects a lack of sensitivity toward every Israeli, irrespective of political views. I expect you to forcefully condemn these claims."

Friday, Israel's ambassador to Sweden, Benny Dagan, in a meeting with Sweden's state secretary for foreign affairs, Frank Belfrage, demanded that Sweden "lift this cloud over ties prior to the visit of Foreign Minister Carl Bildt to Israel."

Bildt is scheduled to visit Israel on September 10.

The meeting between Dagan and Belfrage was tense, with Dagan being highly critical of the Swedish government and especially Bildt, reiterating Israel's demand for an official condemnation of the article's claims.

The Swedish state secretary argued that there are constitutional limitations to what the government can do, and that it was impossible to limit what is published in the media.

"In the past you responded to similar reports," Dagan said. "Your response to date has been indecisive and your stance on the matter remains unclear to us," the Israeli diplomat insisted.

Belfrage tried to explain that Bildt had responded on the matter in his blog. The Swedish foreign minister wrote in his blog on Friday morning that "freedom of speech is a basic value in Sweden" and "part of the constitution." Bildt noted that he was cognizant of the anger in Israel but believed the basic values of a society are best preserved through debate.

In response Dagan said: "What does it mean he wrote in his blog? Who does that represent? Is he writing there as a private citizen? As the foreign minister of Sweden? Or as the current holder of the European Union presidency? Israel expects a clear government stance and not views on a blog."

As a result of the pressure Bildt put up the new blog entry, in which he voices views condemning anti-Semitism and calls for closer ties with Israel.

In an unprecedented move the Swedish Foreign Ministry's Web site included a link yesterday to Bildt's blog entry, suggesting that his position was being adopted as the semi-official stance of the government. In his new entry, Bildt expresses his personal reservations about the article but did not condemn it and says freedom of the press is defended by the Swedish constitution. However, he also hints that reports can stir anti-Semitism and that this "angers" him.

The Swedish foreign minister notes that hate crimes are against the law in Sweden, and this includes incitement to anti-Semitism. But he also points out that the courts, and not the politicians, are responsible for condemning and dealing with the responsible parties.

The Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Bureau welcomed yesterday the "change" in the foreign minister's blog.

"Better late than never," a senior Israel official said. "The Swedes are beginning to move in the right direction, but from our point of view this is not the end of the crisis, and Israel is still demanding a clear statement on the part of the government in Stockholm."