Monday

30th Jan 2023

EU presidency under pressure over Israel organs story

With Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu arriving in Europe on Tuesday (25 August) for talks set to focus on settlement expansion, EU presidency country Sweden is embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with Tel Aviv over a newspaper article about Israeli soldiers harvesting Palestinian organs.

Mr Netanyahu on Sunday demanded that Sweden formally condemn the story, which was published last week in Sweden's top selling Aftonbladet daily.

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  • Sweden's Carl Bildt: His government is backing freedom of speech in the row with Israel (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The Israeli government has said the piece is a modern form of medieval "blood libel" - the anti-Semitic myth that Jews killed Christian children for their blood.

"We're not asking the Swedish government for an apology, we're asking for their condemnation," the prime minister told a meeting of cabinet ministers, according to an unnamed Israeli official quoted in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

But while the Swedish ambassador to Israel initially denounced the article, the government has refused to follow suit.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt wrote in his widely-read blog on Friday that the country's principle of freedom of expression means that the government is in no place to condemn any story in a newspaper.

"Freedom of speech is a basic value in Sweden," his statement said.

Israel's finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, increased diplomatic tension by saying that Mr Bildt, due to visit Israel on 10 September, is no longer welcome.

"Anyone who is unwilling to condemn such a blood libel could be considered unwanted in Israel," he said. "Swedish government cannot remain indifferent, and the crisis will remain until Sweden responds in a different manner."

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman had previously said "the affair is reminiscent of the state's [Sweden's] stand during World War II, when it also did not intervene."

EU-Israeli relations have been on a downward trajectory since the beginning of the year, when Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

In the wake of the attack, Brussels suspended a planned "upgrade" to EU-Israel relations and has said the move will not go ahead until Israel halts Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories and accepts a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.

Mr Netanyahu's tour of select EU capitals this week is intended to mend ties.

Mr Netanyahu is to meet UK leader Gordon Brown in London on Tuesday and US peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday. On Thursday, he is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Asked by EUobserver if the Aftonbladet row could undermine EU pressure on Israel over settlements, a spokesperson for Mr Bildt said the minister did not want to discuss the issue "through the media."

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