Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt says it is improper for his government or any of its designated diplomats to comment on racist slurs by a Swedish newspaper.
This after Swedish left-wing tabloid Aftonbladet published unsubstantiated anti-Semitic allegations linking together the shooting of an Arab terrorist in the West Bank in 1992, a nationwide Israeli campaign to boost organ donations, and the recent revelation of an alleged organ-trafficking ring in the United States. By all accounts one of the people arrested in that ring was a Jew – and that was enough to set Aftonbladet off on an anti-Semitic tangent of unparalleled viciousness.
Both the HeraldSun of Australia and the Daily Telegraph of Britain criticized the Aftonbladet article for the extreme shoddiness of its research and for its obvious pandering to racist conspiracy theories.
So what do we make of Carl Bildt’s stand on this issue? He says: “In our constitution our defence of freedom of speech and freedom of the press remains steadfast. And the defence of these principles has served our democracy and our country very well.”
To the best of my knowledge, Sweden’s ambassador to Israel Ms Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier is entitled to freedom of speech. That same freedom of speech that her boss in Stockholm, Carl Bildt, is so keen to defend – depending on the circumstances, of course.
After all, Carl Bildt truly practises what he preaches: he went on record as virulently condemning Israel’s eviction of two Arab families from their illegally occupied properties in Jerusalem. He did not do so merely as a private citizen but from his unique position as Foreign Minister and backed by Sweden’s key position in the EU Presidency. The blog in which he makes his strong comments is in Swedish, but in the relevant piece Carl Bildt says that the evictions jeopardise the entire Middle East peace process. Now that’s a leap of faith, logic and chronology that simply defies all parallels.
Carl Bildt upholds the entitlement to freedom of speech for himself in his official capacity. He even upholds the entitlement to freedom of speech for himself in his private capacity – the fact is he wrote the above rambling explanation in his private blog. It’s only his ambassador to Israel who does not enjoy the same freedoms that he grants himself – she is not entitled to express her opinions on the subject of virulent anti-Semitism.
And what was it she said? She said that the people of Sweden found the unsubstantiated allegations “shocking and appalling”. Does Carl Bildt believe that Swedes would NOT find raw anti-Semitism both shocking and appalling? Nor did the ambassador suggest at any time that the Swedish government should regulate or in any other way censor the press. On the contrary, she was at pains to emphasise that “Just as in Israel, freedom of the press prevails in Sweden”, adding: “However, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are freedoms which carry a certain responsibility.”
Carl Bildt’s behaviour is anything but consistent. Or responsible.
It would be as grave an error for the government to interfere with the press in Sweden as it would be in Israel. Few people in Sweden are suggesting that the government take legal or official action against the newspaper.
But an awful lot of people both here and worldwide are waiting in dumbfounded silence for the Swedish government to apply what it professes to defend: its right to express an opinion.
If it is acceptable for Aftonbladet to publish the racist hatred that it chooses to publish, it is equally acceptable for the Swedish government to distance itself from the putrid nonsense. Both are utilising their freedom of speech.
It is this absence of any comment on the subject matter by the Swedish government that is worrying. It’s why many analysts and commentators worldwide are asking just how closely Aftonbladet is ideologically supported by leading figures within the Swedish government.
The Swedish government’s silence is deafening. It is resoundingly failing to exercise its right to freedom of speech.