How the West was won

Or, more correctly, conquered.

On Thursday August 27, Swedish TV’s national debate programme “Debatt” (in Swedish) dealt with the anti-Semitic Aftonbladet/Donald Boström allegations – entirely unsubstantiated – of illegal organ trafficking by Jews and Israelis.

Although the spotlight has naturally trained on the murky agenda of the extreme Left-wing newspaper and its collaborators, the real issue in Sweden is not that the article was published. Sweden has a free press and its citizens enjoy freedom of speech, both enshrined in the Constitution.

As such, Aftonbladet may abuse its position to pursue any murky policy it chooses and it is perfectly free to employ the services of unscrupulous agents and amateur writers in that pursuit. Swedish law guarantees that freedom.

The real point at issue is not Aftonbladet exercising its freedom of expression via activities of dubious moral standard, but whether the Swedish government are right in not exercising the very same freedom of expression to identify Aftonbladet’s bigotry for what it was. In a remarkable departure from protocol and ethics, the Swedish Foreign Office under Carl Bildt took the extraordinarily aggressive step of ordering the removal from the Embassy website of a statement by Sweden’s ambassador to Israel in which she upheld her nation’s freedom of expression but expressed regret over the hurt felt by Israelis over the unfounded allegations.

And what of the Swedish media? The vast majority have roundly condemned the offending piece as a blatant act of racist defamation. Most have also expressed surprise that the article contains no evidence whatsoever to back up the unsubstantiated claims.

The only howls of media support come from the traditional pack of Israel-baiters – extreme Left-wing fringe papers with circulations as numerous as the feathers on a leopard’s back.

Mainstream media Sweden has by and large taken stock of its reputation.

But there are exceptions. Yesterday’s “Debatt” TV programme pitched Boström and his Aftonbladet cohorts – along with their regular trail of insufficiently medicated Palestinian Solidarity Movement groupies – against representatives of the free press and the Jewish Community in Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast.

Oded Meiri from Gothenburg sat with a stop-watch throughout the TV programme. His findings: Aftonbladet and the pro-Palestinian group got to speak for 14.60 minutes, while the opposing side got just half that – a mere 7.5 minutes on air.

Viewer Amos notes that all the pro-Arab speakers were introduced with signs showing their names and affiliations, while the opposing debaters were offered no such courtesy. At no time did the programme host point out that despite Boström’s claims in his article, the Arab family on which the article centres have categorically denied that they ever made any allegations of illegal organ removal. Furthermore, they stated categorically that they had never spoken to Boström or indeed any other reporter on the issue.

The second part of the “Debatt” TV programme dealt with an entirely unrelated matter, that of alternative medicine in Sweden. As such, there were several doctors in the studio while the Aftonbladet issue was being discussed. Not one pointed out that organ harvesting after the donor had suffered multiple gunshot wounds in a dusty street, followed by a long, dusty and hot journey by jeep and helicopter to (presumably) a medical establishment, would render the victim’s organs unusable.

This, then, is the true face of the climate that the Swedish media have created over the years regarding the Middle East scene: uncomfortable silence even when the truth needs out. True, in the wake of Aftonbladet’s excesses most media outlets have come to their senses and for the first time in decades actually taken a firm stance against shoddy journalistic practice, constant demonisation of Israel, and anti-Semitism in the Left-wing press. Some Swedish newspapers have always maintained a high ethical and professional standard and have continued in the same vein throughout this ugly episode.

But Swedish TV’s “Debatt” puts into sharp relief the situation in which this nation finds itself after decades of unmitigated hate-mongering and constant bias in the Swedish media. Aftonbladet may have produced disgusting anti-Semitic claptrap, but SVT “Debatt” gave it twice as much time to defend itself as it gave to people wanting answers to very specific questions.

Not least among those questions was why Aftonbladet’s original Swedish text differs so markedly from its English translation, which has been significantly toned down in several key areas. To her credit, “Debatt” host Belinda Olsson was barely able to contain her frustration at Aftonbladet editor Jan Helin’s refusal to address the issue.

But it did not stop her from giving twice as much time to Aftonbladet as she did to the opposing side.

The effects can already be seen in the Arab world, which is lapping up the story as though more encouragement of anti-Semitism were needed in the Muslim world. The Egyptian Gazette, for instance, doesn’t let truth get in the way of a good story.

This is how the West is being won – or conquered: through the weakness and/or ill-will of the media.

Want a second opinion? Here’s what Sarah Honig writes on the subject.

Alan Dershowitz, Jerusalem Post, Egyptian Gazette, The New Republic, NWT (Swedish)