Ever hear the old joke about a maniac who kills his parents and then begs the judge for lieniency because he is an orphan?
A variation on that theme is running in Sweden this week.
Only this time it’s no joke.
The dust up began when Sweden’s largest daily newspaper Aftonbladet ran a two page article with this eye catching headline:
“They plunder the organs of our sons”
The “report” quoted Palestinians from Gaza claiming that Israeli Defense Forces harvested organs of war victims for sale in black market transplant rings.
The report quotes Palestinian claims that young men from the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been seized by the Israel Defense Forces, and their bodies returned to the families with missing organs.
“‘Our sons are used as involuntary organ donors,’ relatives of Khaled from Nablus said to me, as did the mother of Raed from Jenin as well as the uncles of Machmod and Nafes from Gaza, who all had disappeared for a few days and returned by night, dead and autopsied,” writes author Donald Boström in his report.
Boström’s article makes a link to the recent exposure of an alleged crime syndicate in New Jersey. The syndicate includes several American rabbis, and one Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who faces charges of conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant.
As you can imagine this article was met with a strong reaction.
The liberal Sydsvenskan – southern Sweden’s major daily – had harsh criticism for the rival paper, running an opinion piece under the headline “Antisemitbladet” (a play on the name Aftonbladet).
“We have heard the story before, in one form or the other. It follows the traditional pattern of conspiracy theory: a great number of loose threads that the theorist tempts the reader to tie into a neat knot without having been provided with any proven connection whatsoever,” writes leading columnist Mats Skogkär of Sydsvenskan.
“Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. That is all it takes. After all we all know what they [the Jews] are like, don’t we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything,” the opinion piece says. “Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: ‘Anti-Semitism’ No, no, just criticism of Israel.”
The Foreign Ministry reacted angrily on Tuesday to the report. Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said the newspaper’s decision to publish the story is “a mark of disgrace” for the Swedish press.
“In a democratic country, there should be no place for dark blood libels out of the Middle Ages of this type,” Palmor said. “This is an article that shames Swedish democracy and the entire Swedish press.”
A Foreign Ministry official said that Israel’s embassy in Stockholm have communicated a harsh condemnation to the Swedish government and the newspaper itself.
Initially, even the Swedish government joined in with a condemnation of the article on its Foreign Ministry web site.
Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier issued a strong statement, saying the article was “as shocking and appalling to us Swedes as it is to Israeli citizens. We share the dismay expressed by Israeli government representatives, media and the Israeli public. This embassy cannot but clearly distance itself from it.”
But here’s where things get really bizarre.
The Swedish government has pulled a 180 degree turn.
Their Foreign Minister has disavowed Bonnier’s statement and the official condemnation of the article has been taken down from the government’s web site.
As Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper reports:
Bonnier’s statement sparked intense criticism in Sweden, with the Green Party spokesman Per Gahrton saying she should be recalled and taught “the basics of Swedish freedom of speech,” and the Swedish media questioning why a government-appointed official criticized an article in a newspaper based in a country where there is press freedom.
The editor of the paper where the article appeared, Jan Helin, also lashed out at the envoy, calling her statement denouncing the article an infringement on freedom of the press.
“Have you woken up in Iran?” Helin wrote. “No, it is Sweden’s Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier in Tel Aviv, who attacks the Swedish freedom of press and freedom of expression.”
The editor, in a signed editorial, backed up the article and continued to call Israel to task. “It’s deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table,” he wrote.
The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman for the Israeli press, Yossi Levy, said that Israel was “astounded and concerned” at the continued hesitation of the Swedish government to condemn an article “seeping with anti-Semitism.”
“Just as the paper has the right of freedom of the press, so too does the Swedish government have the right to clearly express in a determined manner its position against this anti-Semitic manipulation that is being used as a tool to demonize Israel,” Levy said.
Now let me see if I’ve got this straight.
A large circulation newspaper prints an article accusing Israel of atrocities reminiscent of Dr. Mengele’s death camp experiments –
The article has no proof for the claims it makes beyond the heated cries of people dedicated to Israel’s destruction –
Israel asks the Swedish government to make the minimal gesture of distancing itself from this thinly veiled terrorist propaganda –
And now Israel is the problem.
It’s a sadly familiar song.
It’s called “the blood libel”.
Blood libel, that disease which appeared in Alexandria in the first century, in Britian in the 12th century, Damascus in 1840 and Poland in 1946, has struck again in Stockholm.
Aftonbladet, Sweden’s largest-circulation newspaper, published a story this week in which it quoted Palestinian sources as saying IDF soldiers had killed prisoners to harvest their organs. The paper, which once supported the Nazis and has pursued a strident anti-Israel policy, published this latest incarnation of the blood libel myth without the benefit of investigation.
Classic blood libels have Jews killing Gentile children and using their blood in the preparation of Passover matzoh or the hamantaschen cakes of Purim. The matzoh story is more prominent among Christians. Passover coincides with Easter, has an association with Jews as the killers of Christ, and provides yet another excuse for a pogrom.
Organ harvesting, a high-tech version of the classic tale, may have borrowed some momentum from the recent case of Jews being charged illegal organ commerce in New Jersey.
The Stockholm story is not the first case of the international media reporting ugly and unverified reports by Palestinians. I once heard the BBC broadcast a claim that Israeli soldiers routinely rape Palestinian women in military prisons. A university colleague and lawyer, active in the civil rights organization B’Tselem, told me that it investigated a number of these allegations and found them all baseless. There are also tales of soldiers raping Palestinian women in order to render them victims of their own families’ honor killings.
While the essence of anti-Semitism remains the same, its manifestation changes with time. Just as organ-stealing is the most up-to-date version of blood libel, so the judgment of Israel by standards far more onerous than used against other countries – usually without reference to attacks against Israel – is a pseudo-sophisticated version of the older disease. It appears among international organizations, governments, courts and individual commentators, who condemn Israel without considering more horrendous cases found among Muslims, in numerous African countries, and the collateral damage attributed to American troops.
The Stockholm story is only the latest assault on Israeli sensitivity. It reminds us who we are, and of our vulnerability to barbarians, intellectual and otherwise.
Donald Bostrom, the Aftonbladet newspaper and now the Swedish government find themselves almost like the criminal appealing for a light sentence in the opening joke.
“Never mind the hideous expression anti-Semitism, you should feel sorry for us because Israel is holding us accountable!”
I can’t wait for the follow up article in the series.
I can see it now – “Some of my best friends are organ stealing Jews!”
Travesties like this are a reminder to us of two key principles:
We need to continue to pray for Israel as she is under physical, political and spiritual attack.
And we need to remember that even in the midst of these awful circumstances and accusations, God is watching out for His people.
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4)
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