Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has cancelled a planned trip to Israel this Friday, against the background of Israeli anger at the Swedish government’s refusal to condemn an article in a Swedish newspaper accusing IDF soldiers of killing Palestinians and harvesting their organs.
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Given the facts that are known, there must be at least a very strong suspicion that Hiss removed organs without authorization from some Palestinians he autopsied. Both this issue, and the army’s possible role in supplying him with corpses, needs investigation.
Hiss is also implicated in another long-running and unresolved scandal from Israel’s early years, in the 1950s, when the children of recent Jewish immigrants to Israel from Yemen were adopted by Ashkenazi couples after the Yeminite parents had been told that their child had died, usually after admission to hospital.
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The bizarre Swedish report led to a no-less-bizarre Israeli response. Bad and irresponsible journalism crossed paths with bad and irresponsible diplomacy. Instead of simply denying the report, Lieberman, true to form, acted like a bully. In his fiery response – from his disrespectful mention of the Holocaust to identifying every criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, to his ludicrous demand that the Swedish Foreign Ministry condemn the article – Lieberman caused great diplomatic damage to Israel. He even scandalously attacked Norway for marking the 150th birthday of its greatest author. However, the article’s damage to the fight against the occupation cannot be ignored.
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On reading the original story, it is clear that the article’s content is journalism of the worst kind: based on the flimsiest of evidence, making tenuous connections on little more than pure conjecture and relying on dubious testimony in the absence of hard fact and proof. However, bad journalism does not automatically an antisemite make, especially when the allegations were directed at the Israeli army, rather than at Judaism and its practices. Had the article claimed that Jewish teaching encouraged the killing of gentile children and the use of their blood for ritual purposes – the classic definition of blood libel, and the origin of the phrase – it would be another matter, but in this case the accusations are clearly made against a subsection of Israeli society, not against Israelis per se, let alone the worldwide Jewish community.
Despite Israel’s harsh protests, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published a second article accusing the IDF of harvesting Palestinian organs.
In the article, published Sunday, Oisín Cantwell and Urban Andersson report from the northern West Bank village of Imatin, where 19-year-old Bilal Ahmad Ghanem was killed during a clash with Israeli soldiers in 1992.
According to the family, the IDF demanded NIS 5,000 (about $1,300) to return the body.
“It was the middle of the night. The soldiers caused an electrical power outage in the entire village. Bilal was returned in a black bag; he had no teeth. The body was stitched from the neck all the way down to the abdomen,” the Swedish newspaper quoted the mother as saying. According to the family, the IDF demanded NIS 5,000 (about $1,300) to return the body.
“It was the middle of the night. The soldiers caused an electrical power outage in the entire village. Bilal was returned in a black bag; he had no teeth. The body was stitched from the neck all the way down to the abdomen,” the Swedish newspaper quoted the mother as saying.
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The diplomatic scandal that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stirred over the article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet is wrong since the government of a state that respects the freedom of the press is not responsible for what newspapers publish. That there was a demand for the Swedish government to “condemn” the article in question suggests Lieberman must still be thinking in Soviet terms.
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On Friday, the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan met with Deputy Foreign Minister of the Scandinavian country and urged his government to issue a denunciation of the article. Deputy Foreign Minister Frank Belfrage emphasized his country’s freedom of speech and how it limits the ability of the government to respond to articles in the media.
It also emerged Thursday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak is considering a libel lawsuit against Donald Boström, the writer of the article. Boström has reportedly been trying to publish a version of the article about Israel harvesting organs since 1992.
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In a blog post on Thursday evening, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote that he would not condemn the article, and that freedom of expression is part of the Swedish constitution.
For full article, visit http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8213873.stm
A spokesman for Israel’s interior ministry said it was freezing the issue of entry visas to Swedish journalists, though those already working in the country would not be affected for now.
The newspaper commented on its story on Sunday, acknowledging that it had no proof of any organ theft but argued that the story deserved publication because of the issues it raised.
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“‘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.
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The report went on to say that about half of all kidneys used in transplants in Israel since 2000 were purchased illegally in Turkey, Eastern Europe and Latin America, adding that the Israeli Health Ministry was aware of the phenomenon but did nothing to curb it.
Aftonbladet also said Palestinian youths who were snatched from their villages in the middle of the night were buried after being dismembered. The reporter, Donald Boström, said he was informed of the alleged atrocities by UN employees while he was working on a book in the West Bank.
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