How should Israel have responded to the outrageous report in a Swedish newspaper that Israeli soldiers have kidnapped and killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs for use in transplants?
One might assume the report in the newspaper, Aftonbladet, published Aug. 17, should be repudiated as a new form of the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel. But then again, perhaps the charge, already acknowledged by the reporter to have been made without evidence, is simply a case of “free speech,” as the Swedish government said, and that to draw further international attention risks making Israel look overly defensive, if not hysterical.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Swedish government to condemn the article. Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, upped the political ante by asserting that Sweden’s refusal to repudiate the article “is reminiscent of Sweden’s stand during World War II, when it failed to intervene as well.”
Historians say that, in fact, Sweden saved the lives of 20,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
More to the point, though, while Israelis have every right to be incensed by the baseless charge, the government demand for a Swedish condemnation turned the issue into one of free speech rather than anti-Semitism, and that is a losing battle.
Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, said that Israel’s call for an official condemnation “had blown the issue completely out of proportion,” according to a report in Ha’aretz.
“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,” she continued, “is that by making the preposterous demand for a government condemnation, the debate has changed from anti-Semitism to freedom of speech in Sweden… The government is not going to condemn the article – freedom of speech here is sacrosanct.”
As infuriating as the charges were, the resulting controversy, with polls showing Swedes backing their government’s decision, could have been avoided if Israeli officials had simply denounced the article as untrue and not dragged the Swedish government into the fray.