Daniel Korski

The Swedish-Israeli War of Words

The Swedish-Israeli War of Words
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I am just back from holidaying in Sweden. And while I dutifully kept away from blogging, I did follow the news and the developing Swedish-Israeli dispute, the implications of which may yet become global.

For those of you who have yet to read up on this story, it all started last week. In an article for Aftonbladet, Donald Bostroem recounted Palestinian allegations that IDF soldiers killed Palestinians to harvest their organs, and implied a link to the recent arrest, in the US, of organ-trafficking suspects. Many of the suspects were Jewish.

Having read the article, the Swedish Ambassador to Israel issued a strong condemnation, saying she found the article "as shocking and appalling to us Swedes as it is to Israeli citizens." This prompted counter-condemnation from Aftonposten’s editor, who demanded that the Swedish government respect the freedom of the press. "Have you woken up in Iran?", the editor wrote. "No, it is Sweden's Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, in Tel Aviv, who attacks the Swedish freedom of press.”

The Israeli government soon weighed in, describing the article as anti-Semitic and demanded that the Swedish government condemn the article outright. But the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt rejected the Israeli calls: "Freedom of expression and press freedom are very strong in our constitution by tradition. And that strong protection has served our democracy and our country well." He also saw parallels with cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

The interesting question is why the Israeli government has reacted the way it has. Every day articles are written which are anti-Semitic, or which the Jerusalem government finds objectionable, or both. The standard diplomatic reaction is for the resident Israeli ambassador to pen a strongly-worded op-ed and for Israeli ministers to follow up with their counterparts. This time the Israeli government has immediately escalated the dispute.

Diplomats I have spoken to are now speculating that the Israeli government - expecting a peace proposal in October from the Obama administration that it will not like - may have used the episode to outmaneuver the Swedish at a time when Stockholm holds the rotating EU presidency. This way, once the likely “Mitchell proposal” comes out, EU backing for the US position may have been undermined, if not neutered. There is already talk of Bildt having to postpone a scheduled visit to Israel. True or not, expect the controversy to continue.