Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Freedom of the Press Libel -- the Swedish government is not satified with just being tolerant toward antisemitism.


by  Micha Roded


A Swedish journalist working for a major tabloid heard from Palestinians a rumor that in the 90's the Israeli army killed Palestinians and then took their organs for transplants. He had no verification of this rumor, nor did he try to verify it, cross reference, or even approach the Israeli army for comment. He just put it in a book and in his paper. Then later, when he heard in the news that a group of Jewish Americans were arrested and charged with the buying and selling organs for transplants, the connection was obvious to him -- Jews, so he reported the rumor again.

Now some might say that this story bears certain vague similiarities to the antisemitic blood Libels of old. In the distant past, history tells us, Jews were accused, based on false rumors, of the killing of Christian children for the purpose of consuming their blood. They would be wrong. This is not a little like blood Libel. It is blood Libel, pure and simple.

However in this case the blood Libel was accompanied by another less traditional libel -- the democracy/freedom of the press/free speech libel.

A major Swedish newspaper prints a blood Libel . Israel never asked the Swedish government to take any action against the paper or silence them in any way. Nor did it ever say that the Swedish government is responsible in any way for the actions of the paper. All that was required, as a simple act of diplomatic courtesy between nations, was for the Swedish government, or at least the Swedish ambassador, to say something to the effect that this hateful blood libel does not represent the government or people of Sweden and that publishing such hate mongering is wrong.

And indeed, the Swedish ambassador in Israel did just that. But the Swedish government decided to condemn the ambassador for his words instead of the reporter, and then it went on to present themselves as the defenders of Swedish free speech against the terrible Israelis/Jews.

Under the circumstances I think we Jews have no choice but to apologize to Sweden. Clearly the fact that we did not riot in European capitals, issue death fatwas or at least death threats, did not send a single letter bomb or burn a single embassy or Swedish business in Israel or elsewhere is quite offensive. The reporter didn't even have to hire a body guard. We are clearly in violation of the principles of democracy, free speech and diplomacy and deserve no sympathy from the people of Sweden.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. After all, the above paragraph is clearly written in hyperbole and sarcasm, isn't it? That was what I thought when I wrote it. But apparently in the prestigious university of Yale, hyperbole becomes reality. A book about the controversial Danish Cartoons of the prophet Muhammad had the cartoons removed from it by university officials because they feared Muslim rioting. Thus the fear of rioting caused Yale to suppress academic free speech, yet journalistic integrity, human decency and a history of hatred and violence against Jews because of blood Libel were not enough to get the editors of a Swedish tabloid to refrain from publishing unverified and hate filled rumors or the government of Sweden to speak out against the libels after they were published.

For the record, although I support the freedom of press of Danish newspapers to publish cartoons of Muhammad, and oppose any violence against the cartoonists, I am willing to state that in my opinion publishing these cartoons in the paper was wrong. It was unnecessary hate-mongering. But what do I know? I'm just an over-sensitive Israeli and Jew.

I would also add that it is regrettable that even in this clear cut case the Israeli government handled things poorly, playing right into the hands of the Swedish libels. We should learn how to use the kind of cool understated but barbed diplomatic language the Swedes use so well. A clear statement saying that we regret to see such Blood Libel published in Sweden, and hope that it does not represent Sweden, and that we regret that the Swedish government prefered to condemn the sensible and sensitive acts of its ambassador while clearly suppporting the hate speech of said newspaper, should have sufficed, I think.


Micha Roded

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