Israel awaits stronger reaction from Bildt

Israel doesn’t plan on canceling a scheduled visit by Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, despite his refusal to apologize for a controversial newspaper article alleging that Israeli soldiers harvested organs from dead Palestinians.

But Israel said it still expects Bildt to clearly distance himself from the article, published earlier this week in the Aftonbladet newspaper.

“The ball is in the court of the Swedish foreign ministry. We expect them to act or answer. No answer is also an answer, of course, and if there is no answer we’re going to be very disappointed and it will cast a shadow over the visit and our political relations,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, to the TT news agency on Saturday.

Israel is bothered by the Swedish government’s refusal to condemn Monday’s Aftonbladet article, which describes suspicions that Israeli soldiers took organs from dead Palestinians.

In a statement, Lieberman said that it “reminds us of Sweden’s conduct during World War II when it also did not intervene”.

Lieberman’s comments in turn irritated the Swedish foreign ministry, resulting in a Friday meeting between Israel’s ambassador in Stockholm, Benny Dagan, and Swedish cabinet secretary Frank Belfrage.

Bildt spoke carefully on Saturday about Israel’s criticism in his first public comments about the incident other than statements published on his blog.

“I’m not passing judgment on it at all,” he said as he made his way to Vaxholm to listen to attend a speech by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

He also commented on how the matter may affect relations between the two countries.

“I don’t think it will affect bilateral relations. We have an interesting and good dialogue when it comes to the peace process in the Middle East. But what I am concerned about is that the Israeli public has gotten the idea that there are anti-Semitic views which are tolerated in Sweden. That idea is wrong according to my view,” Bildt told TT.

“It’s important to say that anti-Semitism isn’t tolerated in Sweden.”

But the Swedish government nevertheless has no plans to issue an apology.

“No, it’s Aftonbaldet’s job to take responsibility for what Aftonbladet publishes,” added Bildt.

He explained that others sometimes have a hard time understanding Sweden’s principles on freedom of speech, adding that there may be reason to more clearly explain what rules apply in the country.

Reinfeldt also commented on Israel’s critique of the Swedish government’s reaction to the matter.

“No one can ask the Swedish government to violate its own constitution. Freedom of speech is an inalienable part of Swedish society,” he said.

Bildt is expected to visit Israel in just over a week. While there had been speculation that the visit would be scrapped, spokesperson Palmor said there are no plans from the Israeli side to cancel the trip.

According to reports in the Israeli media, however, Israeli representatives are instead considering talking only about the article when Bildt arrives in the country.

“The visit happens in ten days and we’ll see what comes up on the agenda,” Palmor told TT.

“Whether it will be the only thing on the agenda will be decided later – it depends also on the reactions of Mr. Bildt.”

He added that no further official protests from Israel are expected other than the opinions expressed by Ambassador Dagan to cabinet secretary Belfrage on Friday.

“We’ve already said everything we have to say,” said Palmor.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak had previously asked a legal advisor to explore whether or not it would be possible to sue Aftonbladet reporter Donald Boström for the article.

“We checking all the possibilities right now,” said Shlomo Dror, a spokesperson for Barak, to TT.

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