Friday 4 September 2009

Aftonbladet: behind the banner 'freedom of press', by Lisa Abramowicz

"Is there any other country in the world that has been as demonized and delegitimized as Israel in Aftonbladet during the last 30 years?"

Source: article by Lisa Abramowicz, Secretary General of the Swedish Israel Information Center in Stockholm, in EJP

On August 17 Sweden's largest-circulation newspaper, Aftonbladet published an article on a two-page spread on its culture pages which included a disturbing photo of, among other things, a person who had been the subject of an autopsy, Bilal Ahmed Ghanem.

In the article the Israeli army is accused of stealing organs from dead Palestinians for use in Israel. Indeed, the article even insinuates that the Israeli army is killing Palestinians for the very purpose of using their organs for Israeli patients.

Israeli officials have commented on the picture of the dead man, a wanted Palestinian resistance fighter. According to the IDF, the photo is of an ordinary autopsy. The photo was taken in 1992 (!). Ghanem was killed in a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militia. The photograph is the same as the one found in Boström's book Insh'allah from 2001. No new evidence of organ theft has surfaced.

Donald Boström says that he doesn't know whether or not any organs where stolen, but that he was told by the family that they believe that to have been the case. According to Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh on August 25, the Ghanem family hadn't spoken to any foreign journalist of their suspicions at the time of their son's death, only that a foreign journalist was taking pictures during the funeral and then disappeared. (Palestinian family: We never told ‘Aftonbladet’ organs were taken)

This is a very important detail in the context, as Boström has pointed out in interviews that he is not the one suspecting organ theft, but the family he has been speaking to. He assumes the role of mouthpiece for the family. Clearly Boström is lying when he says that the Ghanem family has spoken to him about this. No further autopsies have been performed on Ghanem or any of the other Palestinians allegedly killed. There are no witnesses. Nothing at all to indicate that any crime of organ theft has taken place.

Then why was Ghanem autopsied by Israel when the cause of death was clear, Boström asks? Certainly to determine the cause of death and whether he had been killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire. Something which isn't always completely obvious. A lot of people are in fact killed by so-called "friendly fire" in the war between Israelis and Palestinians. (Most of the Israeli soldiers killed during the Gaza war this winter fell to friendly fire.)

The accusations are unreasonable for medical reasons since the organs of people who have been injured or killed by gunshots are unsuitable for transplantations. Per Gahrton, president of the Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden, told Expressen that he chose not to include the rumors of organ theft in his book "Palestinas frihetskamp", which was released last year: "There isn't enough support? But if the Palestinians are to continue with spreading rumors of the Israelis gathering organs they'll have to show a body that is missing organs", Gahrton says.

The head of human rights organization Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, Bassem Eid, is one of the foremost human rights activists in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He, too learned of the rumors of organ theft. Eid could find nothing to support the information. "I have never seen an article like this in any Arab newspaper. No one has reported on this subject - because it is just a rumor", Bassem Eid says.

Boström writing and Aftonbladet publishing is certainly due to them their feeling that this is an opportune moment, after the Gaza war and with Israel’s new right-wing government.

A corruption scandal has erupted in New Jersey, in which, among many other things, an American rabbi is charged with being involved in the transporting of Israelis to the US in order to sell and donate their organs there. Ergo, it is likely that the state of Israel is party to this foul affair and that these matters are somehow interconnected. Hence the publication value, apparently.

Boström and Aftonbladet want a legal investigation into the matter of organ theft. But in a society where rule of law reigns, something both Israel and Sweden are, a prosecutor will only press charges if he/she has enough evidence to convict the accused. Anything else would be a waste of society resources. A court - including the International Criminal Court in The Hague - is not supposed to investigate rumors in a propaganda war. As for the cases invoked by Boström, it's not a matter of "insufficient evidence"; but of "absolutely no evidence".

Jesper Svartvik, president of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, comments that "the text is an example of criticism of Israel alluding to and mixing in ancient anti-Semitic myths, in this case the medieval myths of ritual murder. Shakespeare’s Shylock can also be sensed in the background, wanting his pound of flesh at any price." Therefore, it is not so strange that Jews in Sweden, Israel and all over the world have taken offence at the article in Aftonbladet.

Åsa Linderborg, chief cultural editor, admits that she has never heard of the historical anti-Semitic myths of ritual murder, despite holding a Ph. D. in history ! Now, editor-in-chief Jan Helin would prefer discussing the matter of freedom of speech and the press as well as the forceful Israeli reaction to discussing the veracity of the article or how appropriate it was to publish it. I can understand that, as it enables him to portray Aftonbladet as a victim of Israel's "aggression".

Ref. Aftonbladet August 28, with the war headline "Israel attackerar Aftonbladet (Israel attacks Aftonbladet)" at page 1 and references to pages 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Did anyone say "Exaggerated backlash"?

The freedom of information legislation is part of the constitution. No preliminary censoring is to be used. But if you publish a text that is of a dubious nature, you will have to suffer being criticized and questioned. Freedom of speech is not absolute. There is also a law against hate speech, and incitement, although judicial tolerance is extremely lenient. For chief cultural editors and editors-in-chief there is also something called press ethics and standards. The heads of Aftonbladet do not seem to take those very seriously.

It is worth studying the publication policy of Aftonbladet regarding Israel over a period of time, and that goes for all of its pages. Is there any other country in the world that has been as demonized and delegitimized as Israel in Aftonbladet during the last 30 years? It is clear that Aftonbladet’s policy regarding freedom of speech and of the press has been completely different concerning, for example, the Danish Muhammad cartoons or Lars Vilks' roundabout dogs (which weren't published in Aftonbladet) a few years ago. AB declined because they didn't want to offend Muslims. But offending Jews and Israelis is apparently fine.

I don't think that either Linderborg or Helin were unaware of the ruckus that would be caused by publishing this lousy and poorly substantiated article. I think that they were consciously attempting to push the boundaries of what can be written about Israel and Jews and hide behind the banner - freedom of the press.

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