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ISRAEL

‘Aftonbladet must be held accountable for false allegations’

In an open letter to the people of Sweden, Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, calls on government officials to demand editorial responsibility over the publication of an article accusing Israeli defence forces of harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians.

'Aftonbladet must be held accountable for false allegations'

Like many of you, I have been closely following developments concerning the story in the Swedish daily “Aftonbladet” alleging that Israeli soldiers “harvested” the organs of Palestinians. At the outset, it should be abundantly clear to everyone that the preposterous allegations in this story are false and unsubstantiated, and what’s more, harmful, inciteful, and potentially libelous.

To be sure, freedom of speech is a bedrock of democracy, and you should rightly be proud that it is enshrouded in the Swedish Constitution. But no less important alongside that freedom is responsibility and accountability. And that is where the most egregious problems with this issue lie; which could lead to the loss of greater values such as diminishing the sanctity of life. The bitter lessons of our shared history teaches us that there is a short distance between “anything goes” under cloak of “freedom of speech” to actions of incitement and violence. In our recent history, for example, it was all too common for similar, unsubstantiated stories against Jews to be printed, which gave credence to the worst atrocities of mankind. Precisely because of that shared history and experience, as Europeans, we can not accept this type of irresponsible hate speech cloaked as journalism.

While much has been made of Swedish government officials’ responses, I believe that a fundamental issue has been woefully overlooked; the responsibility that lies with both the article’s author and the newspaper’s editors. The allegations made in the story derive from dangerous age-old anti-Semitic canards and hateful blood libel and should be condemned as such. But the central issue is that the author of the story and the “Aftonbladet” editors have been given a green light under the banner of “freedom of speech” to disseminate these false allegations, that, in the words of Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt’s blog, “can stir anti-Semitism”.

Words have the power to uplift us, to inspire us and to improve the world around us. But when used irresponsibly, they have the power to stir hatred and violence. And that is the problem at the crux of this matter. To be sure, many Swedes have spoken out against the story and they should be commended, but the silence with which others and the government have treated the issue is deafening – and alarming.

As president of a non-partisan organization representing Jewish communities throughout Europe, I have the responsibility to ensure that issues of importance to the Jewish community are raised – for the betterment of all minorities in Europe. Because we are all Europeans, one and the same.

I am proud that we have been at the forefront of joint efforts with the European Parliament, the European Commission and European leaders to foster concrete efforts to promote tolerance and reconciliation throughout Europe. And I hope that as they chair the Presidency of the European Union, Swedish officials will continue to enhance these efforts. But as recent trends throughout Europe have shown, unacceptable incidents of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are all too real, and in several European nations, including Sweden, are regrettably on the rise.

As we approach a major anniversary of the beginning of WWII and the attempted annihilation of an entire people simply because they were Jews, we must stop and ask ourselves about the values of freedom of speech and the intrinsic responsibility that is bound to that freedom. Yes, freedom of speech is a hallmark of rational and free governments and people. But members of the media have an added responsibility – to fact check and to exercise caution before printing any unsubstantiated article – no matter how many newspapers it may sell. Too many times, incitement and blood libel have masqueraded as “articles” with horrific consequences.

Therefore, I implore you as educated, rational European brothers and sisters, to demand responsibility and credibility from your reporters, their editors and their publishers. What’s more, editorial integrity, responsibility, and accountability MUST be demanded by government officials. Otherwise, the sacred institution of freedom of speech will be worth nothing more than something to wrap our fish in.

Sincerely,

Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, a pan-European Jewish umbrella organization.

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ISRAEL

Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat

The Israeli navy intercepted a Swedish-flagged activist boat bent on breaching its more than decade-long blockade of Gaza, the second in less than a week, the military said on Saturday.

Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat
Photo: TT

“The ship was monitored and was intercepted in accordance with international law,” the military said in a statement, before the vessel, named Freedom for Gaza and carrying 12 people, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The (military) clarified to the ship’s passengers that they are violating the legal naval blockade and that any humanitarian merchandise can be transferred to Gaza through the Port of Ashdod,” the statement said.

The people on board were taken for “further inquiry.”

The organisers of the flotilla said the boat, which was carrying medical supplies, was intercepted in international waters.

“The demands of Ship to Gaza are that the ship with its crew and cargo will be returned to the site of the boarding, and that they will be allowed to go in peace through international and Palestinian waters in accordance to international law,” they said in a statement.

“This is a demand that the eleven years-long illegal and destructive blockade on Gaza will be lifted at last.”

Freedom was the second boat of the “Freedom Flotilla” to be intercepted en route to “break the blockade” on Gaza, organisers said.

Four boats left from Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, with two remaining behind after a recent stop in the Italian port of Palermo.

On Sunday, the Israeli navy intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat that was part of the flotilla.

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008 and says the blockade is necessary to keep them from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas where 80 percent of the two million population are dependent on aid.

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