Monday, August 24, 2009

Civil liberties even when it is not easy

From 'Aftonbladet' to Neve Gordon

It's easy to support freedom of the press and freedom of speech as abstract principles. But what if a Swedish newspaper publishes false stories that could inspire violence against Jews? What if a tenured Israeli academic calls on the world to boycott his country?

Last week, Donald Boström "reported" in the mass-circulation Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that the IDF murders young Palestinian Arabs to enable the harvesting of their organs for transplanting. On Sunday, the paper said it had sent two other journalists, Oisin Cantwell and Urban Andersson, to the West Bank, where Palestinians confirmed Boström's original expose.

If Israelis have overreacted to this mendacious twaddle, it's because anti-Semitic blood libels have had deadly consequences for our people ever since Greek pagans first accused ancient Jews of kidnapping foreigners for sacrificial purposes. Christians picked up the theme in the Middle Ages, accusing Jews of drinking the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes.

In 1236, Germanic Christians "modified" the vilification by claiming that the Jews used the blood of Christian boys for medicinal purposes. And the Nazis brought the defamation into the 20th century via Der Stuermer.

Now Aftonbladet has the distinction of keeping the lie alive in 21st-century Europe.

Had the Swedish Foreign Ministry backed the condemnation of Boström's article by Elisabet Borsin Bonnier, Sweden's ambassador in Tel Aviv - instead of reprimanding her - the matter would have ended there. Stockholm could have announced that in a democracy, the government does not muzzle newspapers; but that the blood libel does not reflect the views of the Swedish people or government. Israel did not ask for anything more.

Instead, while Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt opted to pontificate about the Swedish constitution and freedom of speech, he could not bring himself to dissociate from the substance of the defamatory article.

STILL, perhaps the Israeli reaction has been over the top. While Aftonbladet was exposing the Jews for snatching Arab body parts, Britain's Sun newspaper revealed yesterday that space aliens may be in the process of invading that island nation. Indeed, over the weekend, the Scarborough Evening News reported fresh UFO sightings over Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, in America, the Weekly World News covered the discovery of the secret burial ground of Bigfoot. Only recently, the paper had revealed that the head of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia would soon announce the location of the Ark of the Covenant, noting that some experts saw a link between UFOs and the Ark.

Perhaps Aftonbladet will now investigate the connection between other reports circulating on the Web of alien sex experiments on earthlings and the missing Palestinian organs. Or does the paper take itself too seriously to pursue such a line of inquiry?

Aftonbladet can take succor from the support it received Sunday from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The terror group recalled that as early as the 1980s, the IDF had been suspected of stealing organs from Gazan children who had been taken to Israeli hospitals - ostensibly for treatment.

Free-world newspapers, in both hard copy and electronic form, can write basically anything they want, subject to self-regulation and national libel laws. So it should be.

The bylaws of the Swedish Journalists Association call on members not to lie. Sweden's press ombudsman and its press council are charged with monitoring and promoting good journalistic practice. Let them judge whether Aftonbladet has violated the ethical standards of Swedish journalism.

WE FEEL much the same way about Neve Gordon's op-ed in The Los Angeles Times last week, in which the Ben-Gurion University political science instructor called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against our country.

If the op-ed editors of the paper want to maintain their practice of carrying two pieces critical of Israel for every pro-Israel comment, that is their prerogative.

But it would be an egregious mistake - playing straight into Gordon's hands - for donors to punish his Zionist university in Beersheba for upholding freedom of expression in connection with Gordon's destructive views by withholding their support.

The most apt response would be for contributors to endow a chair in Zionist studies in Gordon's department, and for the university to fill it with a Zionist scholar of world renown.

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