JERUSALEM, Aug. 19, 2009 -- Israel's army has been stealing the organs of dead Palestinians.
At least that's the unsubstantiated claim made this week in one of Sweden's top-selling tabloid newspapers. The shock report in the Aftonbladet newspaper has caused a storm of protest in Israel, with leading politicians demanding an apology and accusing the paper of anti-Semitism.
"This is a mark of shame for all Swedish journalism," said the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "Such harsh and terrible racist statements, which encourage hate crimes against Jews, must never be tolerated."
Donald Bostrum, the Swedish journalist responsible for the article, based his report on unsubstantiated rumors from some Palestinians who claimed the bodies of relatives killed by the Israeli army were sometimes returned with organs missing.
He denied his report was anti-Semitic. "There is no conspiracy theory here against Israel or Jews, and this is not anti-Semitism," he said in a telephone interview with an Israeli newspaper.
Despite the lack of credible evidence in his report, the paper's editor, Asa Linderborg, claimed she was surprised by the level of uproar.
"It is true he has no names of specific people from whom organs were taken," she said, "but he spoke with Palestinian mothers who told him their sons had come back to them dead, without organs."
The article drew sharp criticism from other Swedish newspapers. Sydsvenska Dagbladet, another leading title, fired back with an angry editorial Tuesday:
"The technique is well known. A whole web of groundless claims with no proof of a connection between the elements is laid out, and it only remains for the reader to connect the supposed threads and spin a tale whose goal is clear: the smearing of Israel's reputation."
Israel Criticizes Anti-Semitic 'Hate Pornography'
As the storm of protest grew in Israel today, Sweden's ambassador to Tel Aviv, Elisabet Borslin Bonnier, issued a statement of her own.
"The article is shocking and appalling to us Swedes, as it is to Israeli citizens," she said. "We share the dismay expressed by Israeli government representatives, media and the Israeli public."
There is a long history of so-called blood libels against Jews, the first and most notorious being the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a viciously anti-Semitic tract created by agents of the Imperial Russian regime. The story was used to stir up attacks against the Jewish community.
Israelis were quick to put the latest Swedish article within that historical context. Yossi Levy, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, today said, "This is one of the most terrible articles that we have come across recently. ... This is made in Sweden hate pornography."
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, compared the article to Nazi propaganda, saying, "If this newspaper's personnel read the Nazi press, which was edited by Goebbels, they will get other ideas for exposes with a similar level of credibility."
Some Israelis accuse Europeans of being pro-Palestinian and this latest controversy comes at a time when Sweden holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.