The Israeli Elevation of Swedish Insignificance

There are days when I wish my children had a more grown-up perspective. Little things seem so important to them and they just don’t know how to let it go or give it the appropriate importance.

Then there are days when I wish I had more of my children’s perspective. I am thankful that they remind me of the importance of having fun, of treasuring life’s blessings, and that there is no point in working all our life if we don’t enjoy life along the way.

However, sometimes my buttons get pushed and I too find it difficult to let something go or to keep it in perspective; just like my children.

As Jews, we have a hard time letting things go. Our historic memory is long and we have elevated the act of remembering to be holy. We remember that we were slaves in Egypt in our liturgy around the year, not just at Passover the time dedicated to this. With the event of the Holocaust not forgetting has become especially significant. “Zachor” (Remember) has become a commandment.

As a result of this memory and our heightened awareness, we have become extremely sensitive to any discrimination against Jews, criticism of Israel or traces of antisemitism to the point where it is not always in our best interests.

In August Aftonbladet, Sweden’s largest circulation daily, ran two stories accusing the Israeli IDF of kidnapping Palestinians saying they were “used as involuntary organ donors.”

The first story with the headline “Our Sons are Plundered for Their Organs” (The original, ”Våra söner plundras på sina organ” can be seen at <http://www.aftonbladet.se/kultur/article5652583.ab>) was given prominence as a double spread feature in the paper’s cultural section. The article was illustrated with a photograph of a dead Palestinian man with a line of surgical stitches running the length of his torso, pictures of stone-throwing youths and a photograph of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, the New Yorker arrested in an FBI sting this summer charged with plotting to buy a kidney from an Israeli and sell it to an American patient for $160,000. This implied a link with the recent arrest of the American Jew for illicit organ trafficking and conjured up associations with medieval accusations that Jews killed Christian children for their blood. Clearly tabloid journalism not based on facts.

A rival publication, the liberal Sydsvenskan – southern Sweden’s major daily – had harsh criticism for the rival paper, running an opinion piece with furious condemnation and accusations of anti-Semitic blood libel.

Meanwhile, Israeli reaction swelled out of proportion emanating from the highest level of government and escalating the story far beyond the place it deserved to headlines in nearly every world-wide media network and to an International political incident. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have called on the Swedish government to condemn the article which they refuse to do, citing Freedom of the Press.

This Swedish tabloid suddenly gained notoriety and the story gained international prominence because of Israel’s reaction.

While the writer, Donald Bostrom, based the story on accounts from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and when interviewed, he said that he could not vouch for their accuracy. “It concerns me, to the extent that I want it to be investigated, that’s true. But whether it’s true or not — I have no idea, I have no clue. Aftonbladet Editor Jan Helin wrote that the newspaper had no actual evidence that the allegations against the Israel Defense Forces are true.
In reaction to this story in a tabloid, Israel has strained relations with Sweden which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union two weeks before Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, is scheduled to visit Israel.

Over 10,000 Israelis have signed on to a boycott Swedish goods spreading this into business relations as well. These include calls for boycotts of Israel Ikea which is actually franchised to an investors’ group headed by New York-based businessman Matthew Bronfman with one Ikea store in Israel with another one slated to open next year and of Volvo, which is owned by Ford Motor Company and sells just over 1,000 cars in Israel each year.

In recent years Swedish exports to Israel have been rising dramatically. They increased by close to 40 percent between 2007 and 2008, amounting to $483 million last year. This increase comes as many Israelis are happy to have Swedish exports available to them, raising their standard of living.
However, Israel with its hypersensitivity, has succeeded in calling world-wide attention to a story in a Swedish tabloid, which the writer and editor say may not be true, and to which their rival paper responded appropriately. The Israeli popular reaction may additionally hurt foreign investment in the country and their own supply of imported trade. I fail to understand how this helps the Jews.

Rather than assigning blame or forcing actions of no consequence, it is important whether in international relations, in business or in human interactions to implement productive solutions which change the outcome and produce the results you desire. In this case Israel has acted against its own self interests by promoting assertions that were not backed by fact in an obscure newspaper onto the world stage.

Even a child can tell you that if someone says something that isn’t true and no one is listening, the best thing to do is to ignore him.