The Swedish-Israeli row that broke out over an article published by Swedish daily Aftonbladet on 17 August, relating to alleged organ harvesting from dead Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, today reached new heights.

Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt made a public statement on the dispute, rejecting demands from Israel to condemn the claims made in the article.

Previously, on 20 August, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt gave a discreet and diplomatic response to Israeli calls for intervention against Aftonbladet in a statement on his blog, declaring that “this is not how our country works – and this is not how it should work either” (free translation by The Lobby). Bildt also made reference to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad carton controversy.

In a similar vein Reinfeldt today stated that “It’s important for me to say that you cannot turn to the Swedish government and ask it to violate the Swedish constitution”. The comments by Reinfeldt and Bildt are a far cry from statements made by the Swedish Ambassador to Israel, Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, who expressed anger and indignation in the wake of the publication of the article.

Others have joined in on both sides of the argument; the Editor-in-Chief of Aftonbladet Jan Helin, former Israeli Ambassdor to Sweden Zvi Masel, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to name but a few.

So what conclusions can one draw from this debate on press freedom, freedom of expression, and self-censorship (and more!)? Perhaps the fact that whether you are a blogger, journalist, government, or simply an individual expressing an opinion, we should all be aware of the fact that the public debate today, whether online or offline, often enters the political arena and can be used as a political bargaining chip!

Surely the Israeli government did not expect the Swedish government to condemn an article in the Swedish press, most notably because of Sweden’s long standing tradition of press freedom which is very securely protected by the Swedish constitution. Carl Bildt will be visiting Israel in two weeks time, let’s hope this story will not hamper constructive talks!

– Emil

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