Shouldn’t Sweden just condemn Aftonbladet? No, not really

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Sweden’s foreign minister has cancelled a visit to Israel against a backdrop of diplomatic tension between both countries over the publication in Aftonbladet, one of Sweden’s leading papers, of a story suggesting that Israeli soldiers harvested organs from Palestinian prisoners to sell them for transplants. Israel has demanded an official condemnation of the story, and the Swedish government has refused to comply, arousing the ire of the Israelis.

Joining in the Stockholm-bashing are a constellation of Zionist pundits and bloggers who, on the one hand, hail the Western values condensed in the phrase "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (wrongly attributed to Voltaire), but, on the other hand, believe the principle somehow doesn’t hold when it is Israel that disapproves of something. The rationale given is that Aftonbladet’s story is yet another iteration of the infamous medieval blood libel, and that allowing such hateful speech to be disseminated will further increase the allegedly staggering European antisemitism.

The term "blood-libel" is randomly hurled against Israel’s critics, both abusive and legitimate. The play "Seven Jewish Children" has been ludrcrously called so. The Aftonbladet story comes much closer, but still falls short of a blood libel. For one thing, it doesn’t charge all Jews, or all Israelis, with the alleged crime. For another thing, it describes the allegations as "a very serious accusation, with enough question marks to motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation about possible war crimes." It’s not the same to make an outrageous suggestion and call for an investigation as to make it and claim it’s the truth. This is not how Zionist bloggers present the story, however. They describe it as (for instance) "a two-page photo spread screaming that Jews like to kill people to profit from their organs." It is only after this kind of embellishment that the story becomes blood-libelous.

But would Israel be right to demand a condemnation, even if the story had asserted that the claims were true? Here’s where the context must be factored in. If making outrageous allegations about other countries were exceptional in the world media, Jerusalem’s demand would make sense. In the real world, however, the most nonsensical and offensive things are said by newspapers without the relevant governments being asked anything.

A good example is Israel itself. Earlier this year, this blog denounced a Jerusalem Post online article (later taken down from the web) in which it was stated that Norway’s finance minister had marched at a rally in protest of the Gaza war shouting "Death to the Jews." A follow-up article also described the Norwegian Jews’ state of anxiety over the increasing antisemitism in the country.

When it became clear that the whole affair was a hoax, Norway did not call on the Israeli government to condemn the Jerusalem Post over its egregious irresponsibility, nor did the Israeli government issue such a condemnation by its own initiative, despite the high profile of the media outlet involved.

In a more recent and stunning case, Israel National News, an online periodical representing the religious right, published a story that purported to report a Q&A session with Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazd, in which the Iranian cleric allegedly justified and provided Islamic guidelines for the raping of prisoners. An excerpt:

This reply, and reports of the rape of teen male prisoners in Iranian jails, may have prompted the following question: "Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?"

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: "No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape."

The story turned out to be a satirical piece first published in a Farsi-language site, which became a hoax after being taken seriously by INN (the kind of things that happen when you hate too much). While Iran has no diplomatic ties with Israel and can’t demand anything, the story is clearly a blood libel, and the Israeli government, so concerned with such offenses, should condemn INN (a site with a huge audience) without prompting ( which, of course, it hasn’t done and won’t do) before the story becomes viral. (It may be too late: over 460 Zionist and wingnut sites have already bought into the hoax).

In short, Sweden is right not to cave in to Jerusalem’s pressure because Israel is, essentially, demanding special treatment. It is asking what is not normally asked of governments, and more to the point, it is asking what it does not ask of itself. I don’t know what they call it in Swedish or Hebrew, but in English that’s double standards.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf is the pen name of an Argentinian linguist, writer and musician who teaches at the University of Rosario and does free-lance editorial work for several publishers. He joined the I/P debate as an advocate of the single-binational-state solution, and began to blog on the subject to expose the inconsistencies, distortions and bad faith of the militant Zionist discourse.

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