Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now likely to weigh in on the Swedish government’s refusal to condemn the article published in the daily Aftonbladet alleging – without a shred of what proper journalists would define as evidence – that IDF troops “harvested” the organs of Palestinians.
Thusfar, the Swedish government has portrayed the concept of press freedom as equivalent to the right to chuck vicious, unsubstantiated allegations at anyone you don’t like, especially if they are Israeli. The truth – and the Swedes know this – is that governments interact with and intervene in the media all the time, from off-the-record comments to press conferences, from letters of complaint and demands for clarification through to op-ed articles. If Donald Boström, the author of the Aftonbladet piece, had come up with allegations about a Swedish government minister and his secretary based on similarly invisible foundations, you can rest assured that press freedom would not be an issue.
In sum, Sweden’s government is not being asked to revoke press freedom but to comment on an article entirely built on lies that was published in the country’s principal daily newspaper.
However, there is a long-established tendency in Sweden to take Palestinian claims at face-value, no matter, apparently, how outlandish these may be. Gerald Steinberg points out that the Swedish government is a “major source of funding” for NGOs whose strategy is based upon vilifying Israel with scant regard for such pesky considerations as facts:
An NGO Monitor research report on Swedish government funding, published on June 29 2009, documented this pattern in detail, and warned of the incitement and anti-Semitic language being used routinely by these organizations. This systematic study examined over 20 major NGOs funded through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Diakonia, the multi-national NGO Development Center (NDC), and the Swedish Mission Council (SMR). Many of these NGOs routinely accuse Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “apartheid,” and some compare Israeli military and political officials to Nazis. This propaganda warfare is waged through the façade of “research” reports which routinely quote Palestinian “testimonies,” taken and repeated without question. The path from this demonization to the blood libels of Aftonbladet is short and direct.
The Israeli historian Tom Segev does not appear to be troubled by this contemporary culture, focusing his disapproval upon Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s depiction of Sweden’s record during the Second World War. “What is much more important is that Sweden saved the lives of some 20,000 Jews,” says Segev, who then goes on to recall the valiant efforts of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who disappeared into the Soviet gulag system after risking himself to save thousands of Hungarian Jews during 1944.
All this is true and no-one is denying it; indeed, Wallenberg’s heroism is an integral component of what Israeli schoolchildren learn about the Holocaust. What, then, is the implication of what Segev is saying? That this aspect of what he himself acknowledges as Sweden’s complex and often dishonorable World War Two role should block criticism of what Aftonbladet publishes now? This seems to be an inversion of what anti-Zionists routinely accuse Israel’s defenders of doing: instead of using the Holocaust to blunt criticism of Israel, it’s invoked to silence the criticisms of those who, if they thought about it properly, really ought to be more grateful.
In other words, you can’t win.