Sweden’s foreign minister has abruptly cancelled a visit to Israel this week, an Israeli spokesman said on Sunday, amid a spat over a Swedish newspaper article that has escalated into a full—blown diplomatic feud between the two countries.
The tensions revolve around an article published last month in a Swedish tabloid that accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs from dead Palestinians and suggested a connection with an international organ trafficking ring run by Jews. Sweden’s government has rebuffed furious Israeli calls for an official condemnation, citing freedom of the press.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has called off a trip planned for this Friday, according to Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Palmor would not comment on a possible reason, and Swedish officials were not immediately available for comment.
But the cancellation appeared connected to an ongoing furore over the article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, headlined “Our sons are plundered for their organs.” The story sparked widespread anger in Israel and drew exceptionally angry official responses accusing the paper of trafficking in anti—Semitic themes.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a condemnation from the Swedish government, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said he was considering suing the Aftonbladet reporter for libel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the story was reminiscent of medieval libels that Jews killed Christian children for their blood.
“We’re not asking the Swedish government for an apology, we’re asking for their condemnation,” Netanyahu said after the article’s publication.
Sweden’s government refused, and the article sparked an incident inside Sweden’s own Foreign Ministry after its ambassador to Israel published a condemnation of the article only to be reprimanded by her superiors for doing so.
“Freedom of expression and press freedom are very strong in our constitution by tradition. And that strong protection has served our democracy and our country well,” Bildt, wrote in his blog after the controversy erupted.
“If I were engaged in editing all strange debate contributions in different media I probably wouldn’t have time to do much else,” Bildt wrote.