In an article published by Aftonbladet back in August, reporter Donald Boström made – or rather, repeated – allegations that Israel was harvesting organs from Palestinians killed in the ongoing conflict. Despite having no proof, aside from suspicions raised by one Palestinian family, Boström suggested that the allegations were serious enough to warrant investigation by the Israeli government. One can argue that this is poor journalism – publishing unsubstantiated claims that are at once inflammatory and condemnable (if true); at the same time, is it not reasonable to raise the question, and simply ask for a formal inquiry into these allegations? Debatable, on both sides, and while this topic could provide massive fodder for fueling an online discussion, that’s not what particularly concerns me here. Instead, it’s the irrational and knee-jerk reactions to the reporter’s statements that makes me question the application of reason and freedom in public debate.
Boström, as a result of his article, and his steadfast assertion that this at least be looked into, has been branded an anti-Semite by the Israeli government and several prominent religious and political leaders. Why? Because the allegations – not his, but those he repeated – are being leveled at the state itself. It seems that any time something remotely negative is said about any government, any member of an identifiable group, it is taken as a condemnation against the entire population and branded as racist or anti-this-or-that. Had Boström written that “this is typical of Israelis as a whole, a part of the encroaching Zionist movement, a genetic predisposition to desecrate the bodies of its fallen enemies in an ongoing effort to eradicate anything non-Jewish from the region” then yes, brand him an anti-Semite, make stark comparisons to Hitler (which some did, anyway) and let the vitriol of public condemnation drown him in his own words. Hell, I’d be the first in line. But that’s not what he said. He didn’t even say that this did happen. He merely indicated that these allegations had been made, and that perhaps that was enough to justify a formal inquiry. Without proof, I personally question whether these statements – inflammatory and outrageous, to be sure – should have been made. Regardless, I find it absurd – and downright sad – that he is then branded a Nazi and his statements derided as being motivated by nothing more than a hatred for an entire population.
This case highlights an all-too-familiar trend in world events. No longer can we make an allegation against a member of a particular group without being accused of being motivated solely by our desire to oppress the group as a whole. This case has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and it is an example of reactionary sensationalism at its worst. In fact Boström recently spoke at a media conference in Israel in order to foster debate, to freely exchange opinions on this issue. I doubt he would have done that whilst harbouring an ingrained hated of Jews. Still, the Israeli VP boycotted the event and withdrew state funding in protest; a reporter publicly branded him an anti-Semite for having the gall to “believe the Israeli government would take part in such atrocities”; even the director of international relations at one of the most prestigious Israeli institutions slammed Boström and the conference organizers for providing a platform for this issue. So much for freedom of speech.
Again, I’m not convinced that these allegations should have been published in the first place. In fact, the family that was said to have originally made the allegations has repeatedly denied those claims. So is this a case of publishing a sensational rumour or exaggerating back-alley banter? Perhaps. But to then brand the reporter – misguided, maybe, and overeager, most likely – as an anti-Semite, akin to Hitler, does nothing to foster freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the basic freedom to question a government – any government – without implying an indictment on its entire population.