Sweden's shame over Israeli 'organ theft' nonstory
Why won't its government condemn the outrageous article that accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting Palestinian organs?
| Cambridge, Mass.
The article claims that Jewish soldiers in Israel killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. The writer of the article, Donald Bostrom, has acknowledged that "he has no idea whether the accusations are true." Yet a widely read Swedish newspaper was prepared to publish this undocumented and highly volatile accusation without requiring its author to present any credible evidence.
This false accusation is reminiscent of the medieval blood libels that falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children in order to use their blood for religious rituals. It is also reminiscent of the notorious Czarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. One expects this sort of thing from Iranian or Syrian newspapers, but not from Swedish papers.
Not only has Foreign Minister Carl Bildt refused to issue a personal condemnation of the current "organ libel," his foreign ministry explicitly disavowed the denunciation that was issued by Sweden's ambassador to Israel, who had called the article "shocking and appalling." In a self-righteous statement, Mr. Bildt claimed that condemnation of the article would be inappropriate because freedom of expression is a part of the Swedish Constitution.
This is a bogus argument, as anyone who understands freedom of speech will attest. I have devoted much of my life to defending freedom of speech and consider myself something of an expert on the matter. Nobody is talking about censoring the Swedish press or imprisoning the writer of the absurd article. What we are talking about is expanding the marketplace of ideas to include a completely warranted condemnation of sloppy journalism and outrageous accusations that foment an already increasing anti-Semitism in Sweden.
Freedom of speech is based on an open and vibrant marketplace of ideas. No journalist is immune from criticism for bigotry and defamation, even from high-ranking government officials.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredik Reinfeldt's claim that the Swedish Constitution prohibits government officials from commenting on false and defamatory press reports has been contradicted by the Swedish chancellor of justice, Goran Lambertz, who said the following:
"The government has considerable leeway in such matters. A minister can without risk say something along the lines of 'We have no reason to believe these allegations,' but would be contravening the Constitution if he or she actually criticized the decision to publish the article." Mr. Lambertz then offered his own opinion that the decision to not comment was a nod to political considerations, not to legal constraints.
Recall that virtually all government officials in Europe went out of their way to criticize and condemn the depiction of cartoons that offended some Muslims by portraying Muhammad. (More recently, the Yale Press withdrew these cartoons and other classic art depicting Muhammad out of fear of violent reaction.)
Without getting into the business of comparative offensiveness, no reasonable person could argue that depicting a long-dead religious figure comes anywhere close to falsely accusing contemporary Jews of murdering innocent Palestinians to steal their organs.
The reality is that the Swedish government simply does not want to get into a fight with the Muslim world, much as it didn't want to get into a fight with the Nazis during World War II. Sweden seems willing to sell out the Jews in the name of neutrality, or in this case, in the false name of freedom of expression. Its silence is contemptible.
As a Jew, but also as a strong defender of freedom of speech I am offended by Sweden's craven complicity with evil . Freedom of speech carries with it certain obligations as well. One of those is to condemn false speech. The best answer to false speech is not censorship, it is truthfulness.
By remaining silent in the face of the outrageous and unproven accusations contained in the Aftonbladet article, the Swedish prime and foreign ministers inevitably create the impression that they sympathize with the writer, and perhaps even with his conclusions – or, at the very least, that they don't care enough to disassociate themselves from anti-Jewish defamation.
Mr. Reinfeldt and Mr. Bildt, too, have freedom of speech, which they have exercised on many occasions. By choosing not to exercise it on this occasion – or even worse, by exercising it to criticize the Swedish ambassador to Israel for her condemnation of the article – they become facilitators of bigotry. They should be ashamed of themselves. Their country should be ashamed of them. And if their country is not ashamed of them, then every decent person in the world should be ashamed of Sweden.
Silence in the face of evil is not an option. As Edmund Burke reminded us many years ago: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." To that I may add, "or say nothing." The time has come for Swedish officials to tell the world what they really think of this blood libel.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School. His latest book is "The Case Against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace." A version of this piece appeared earlier at FrontPageMag.com .