The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet recently published some bizarre accusations that the Israeli army had harvested organs from slain Palestinians. In response, Israel’s deputy foreign minister “demand[ed] the Swedish government condemn this groundless article.” Sweden’s ambassador to Israel issued a condemnation, which Sweden’s foreign minister and prime minister quickly rescinded, supposedly on free-speech grounds.
They could have been a bit less emphatic, but it’s hard to get too worked up about their reaction. Since Aftonbladet is not a government publication, the government has no responsibility to disavow its articles — though by the same token, there’s nothing wrong with their doing so: Freedom of the press does not include immunity from criticism by government officials.
What is worth condemning is The Economist’s sniffy and (as usual) anti-Israel coverage of the ruckus. The whole article is worth reading, but here are some highlights:
BARELY two months into its six-month presidency of the European Union, Sweden’s government is entangled in a scrap with Israel. Because it pitches Swedes’ cherished free-speech principles against Middle Eastern sensibilities, it is loaded with a wearying sense of déjà vu—and a potential to escalate.
As stated above, “free-speech principles” have nothing to do with it. We have free speech in the U.S., and that’s never stopped government officials from picking a fight with the press.
Sweden stands accused by prominent Israelis, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of blood libel and anti-Semitism.
Not true, at least as far as Netanyahu is concerned. He has called the article itself a blood libel, but he has not accused the entire country of complicity.
This has uncomfortable echoes of Denmark’s cartoon wars, started when a Danish newspaper published drawings of the prophet Muhammad in late 2005.
True, if you consider a request for an apology to be the same thing as a death threat. If there is any discomfort, though, it should rest with the Swedish government, which, according to this story, in 2007 gave Syria its “apology for drawings printed recently in Swedish newspapers that depict the Prophet Mohammad in an offensive manner.”
Sweden’s position as EU president leaves it exposed, even though it has in the past won much kudos with Israel. During the second world war, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi gas chambers and Sweden also sheltered Danish Jews.
Sweden, maintaining its proud tradition of neutrality, also supplied steel and machine parts to Nazi Germany’s military and allowed the Wehrmacht to transport men and matériel across Swedish territory.
Mr Netanyahu may have reasons of his own for stirring the pot. Next month will see a critical UN report on human-rights abuses during Israel’s war on Gaza at the turn of the year. Causing a stink about absurd Swedish allegations could usefully tire people of the subject and muddle the details when they come out.
Let’s see: Aftonbladet’s allegations are absurd, so if Israel ignores them, they will presumably disappear, just like the absurd allegations of a “massacre” at Jenin. Therefore, the real reason Israel is “causing a stink” is to make people grow tired of being anti-Semitic. Sure, that tactic makes sense. After all, it’s bound to happen one of these centuries.