For two weeks now the world has been focusing on Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet in the wake its publication of a controversial article regarded by many as insufficiently researched and poorly executed. The spotlight is also on Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt – many Swedes and foreign analysts wait with interest to see if, and if so how, he will ultimately respond to Aftonbladet’s article.
The one element that appears to have escaped the world’s attention is the position of the Swedish Social Democratic opposition party on this controversy. Aftonbladet is regarded by many as serving the Social Democratic party’s interests. With continued silence from that quarter, many Swedes are asking what exactly separates Sweden’s left-wing Social Democratic party from the right-wing Sweden Democrats on the issue of racism.
A fortnight has passed since Aftonbladet published unsubstantiated 17 year old allegations regarding systematic Israeli organ theft from Palestinian Arabs.
Aftonbladet linked these allegations – which have been refuted by the Arab family named in the article – to an unrelated story about organ trafficking in the USA. The link consisted of the fact that one of the American suspects is a Jew. This was sufficient for Aftonbladet. It published an article with devastating elements of the kind of medieval anti-Semitic blood-libel in which Jews are accused of killing innocents for religious ritual and/or financial gain.
The article was linguistically coarse, stylistically immature, journalistically limp and woefully lacking in research integrity. Any 17 year old intern fresh from high school would have been able to produce a far more professional piece if proper journalism had been the objective.
None of these observations, however, are particularly relevant two weeks after the story broke. What is relevant today is Aftonbladet’s intentions, and the Swedish Social Democratic party’s silence. Even Sweden’s rabidly anti-Israel pro-Palestinian Per Gahrton refuses to include accusations of the Aftonbladet ilk in his frequent and vicious attacks on the Jewish state because he maintains there is not sufficient evidence to back the claims. Lack of evidence, however, appears not to be an obstacle to Aftonbladet.
Several medical experts have vouchsafed that the process Aftonbladet describes could under no circumstances produce human organs suitable for transplantation – the accusations crumble on logical, logistical and medical grounds. Faced with the choice between publishing unsubstantiated anti-Semitic claims against Jews and publishing confirmed and verifiable information on systematic kidnappings, human trafficking and other crimes against humanity in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Aftonbladet chose the path of classic anti-Semitism.
The reason is simple. The first case denigrates the world’s only Jewish state, Israel, and Jews all over. The second implicates Gaza’s rulers Hamas, who for more than three years have held a young Jew, Gilad Schalit, captive after kidnapping him. Schalit has not been granted visits by the Red Cross in accordance with international legislation governing the treatment of prisoners. He has not received legal representation – not that he is accused of anything other than being a Jew, a crime in Gaza. He has not been allowed to meet or have contact with his family – a crime against his established human rights.
For Aftonbladet none of this matters. These are all facts that can be confirmed. However, they do not exactly paint Gaza’s Arab and Muslim leaders in a positive light, so Schalit’s three years of illegal incarceration is a non-event. What is an event is a 17 year old unsubstantiated claim of Jewish organ theft – denied even by the victim’s family.
Aftonbladet shields its demonisation of the Jewish state behind claims of freedom. Not freedom for Gilad Schalit but freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But the tabloid’s freedom seems limited to the slander of one single country, one single religion and people: Israel and the Jews.
Because Aftonbladet refuses to write in equally clear terms – in fact it refuses to write at all – about Arab and Muslim human trafficking in Gaza. Or about systematic torture and rape of political dissidents – both women and men – in Iranian prisons (other than to report on the Iranian authorities’ denial).
Freedom of expression is not the same as freedom to destroy or libel. Freedom of the press is not the same as telling lies on the one hand while suppressing the truth on the other – all depending on the niceties of the tabloid’s political agenda.
So what is Aftonbladet’s political agenda? Today, one year before Sweden goes to elections there is every reason to suspect that the newspaper’s attack was merely one in a string of many populist measures designed to generate votes for its mentor, the Social Democratic party. There are about 15,000 Jews in Sweden, and something like half a million Muslims. Despite the immense outrage felt by Swedish Jews over the Aftonbladet attack and countless media outrages in previous years, no buildings have been burned down, no pensioners have been beaten in the streets, no police officers have been attacked or police vehicles vandalized. It’s not the way we Swedish Jews do things. We sit back and think, we try to make people see sense through reasoned argument, we use the persuasive power of the spoken and written word. It’s all part of something that we call “democracy”. Jews here in Sweden have never understood the need to attack people, public institutions, religious edifices or officers of the law as a means of expressing our dissatisfaction. We tend to address our concerns to the people concerned.
So we are now addressing the Swedish Social Democratic party. In the wake of Aftonbladet’s actions and the party’s silence, the big question to party leader Mona Sahlin is as follows:
Can a nominally democratic Sweden really afford a Social Democratic party whose foremost standard-bearer is Aftonbladet? Those who fear the Sweden Democrats should be at least as afraid of Sweden’s Social Democrats. For the very same reason.
On the bottom line it is therefore not only the current Right-Centre coalition government that needs to mark its revulsion for the Aftonbladet article; it is at least equally important for the Social Democratic party to clearly state its opposition to the use of racism as an electioneering tool.
Unless, of course, party leader Mona Sahlin is happy for Aftonbladet to continue profiling itself this way in the name of Swedish Social Democracy.
Links on this and related topics:
Wikipedia, Honest Reporting, TNR, JTA, Washington Post, JPost, JPost2, Arutz7,
The Local, Expressen (Swedish),