Israel pressed Stockholm on Sunday to condemn a report by a Swedish newspaper about alleged body-snatching that has stoked tensions between the two countries.
“We are not asking the Swedish government for an apology, we are asking for their condemnation,” a senior official quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling ministers during a weekly Cabinet meeting.
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz of Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party said “the crisis will continue as long as the Swedish government doesn’t change its attitude toward this anti-Semitic article. Those who do not condemn it are not welcome in Israel.”
The comments came two weeks before Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is to visit Israel, with Stockholm currently holding the rotating EU presidency.
“There is no question of canceling or delaying this visit, but it is clear that this incident will cast a worrying shadow over meetings if it is not resolved,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper sparked the row last week when it published a report claiming Israeli soldiers snatched Palestinian youths to steal their organs and returned their dismembered bodies days later.
The Swedish government has declined to condemn the piece, saying it has to respect the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in its Constitution.
The newspaper rowed back on its story on Sunday, acknowledging that it had no proof of the allegations that it made against the Israeli soldiers but arguing that the story deserved publication because of the issues it raised.
“I’m not a Nazi. I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m a responsible editing executive who gave the green light to the publication of an article because it asks a number of pertinent questions,” Aftonbladet editor-in-chief Jan Helin wrote.
In an editorial headlined “The week the world went crazy,” he admitted that the paper’s initial story published on Monday last week “lacked” proof of any organ theft.
The article has sparked outrage in Israel, with Netanyahu and scores of ministers and commentators calling it a “blood libel” smacking of anti-Semitic accusations against Jews.
“The Swedish government cannot keep silent any longer. In the Middle Ages, slander was spread accusing Jews of preparing Passover matza [unleavened bread] with the blood of Christian children,” Steinitz said.
“And today it is IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers who are accused of killing Palestinians to take their organs,” he said.
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