Swedish Blood Libel: The Aftermath

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet’s story (translated into English in full here) accusing the IDF of harvesting Palestinian organs caused an uproar. Following its publication, we tracked hundreds of your e-mails to Aftonbladet Editor in Chief Jan Helin, who was certainly left in no doubt as to the depth of anger that his decision to publish an unsubstantiated blood libel had generated.

Donald Bostrom, the author of the offensive piece, duly demonstrated his utter lack of any basic journalistic standards when he said: “But whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.” On top of this, the story was further undermined as one of the Palestinian families interviewed said they never told any reporter that their son was missing organs.

Rather than acknowledging a case of shoddy, not to mention offensive journalism, Aftonbladet and even the Swedish government turned the issue into one of freedom of speech, as the situation escalated into a full blown spat between the Israeli and Swedish governments.

HonestReporting supports freedom of speech. We have been on the receiving end of accusations that our protests against biased or anti-Israel media are simply a deliberate attempt to shut down the freedom to criticize Israel of those with whom we disagree. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Israel’s detractors seem to have ready access to a media only too willing to promote their ideas, Israel’s supporters should also have the legitimate right to respond.

We believe that with freedom of speech comes responsibility. Our protests and the calls from Israeli government officials for the Swedish government to condemn Aftonbladet’s blood libel are not an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel. Instead, we are calling for Aftonbladet and those in power in Sweden to exercise responsibility for a story that not only breaches basic journalistic standards, but also plays upon classic anti-Semitic canards which seep into the consciousness of those who will find such a Big Lie preserved on the web and beyond for eternity.

Put simply, we believe that a journalist should have some facts before publishing accusations. Publishing allegations from biased sources without making an effort to check if they are true is not “free speech.” It is what harms free speech and we expect any self-respecting member of the media to say so.




Here we present a roundup of recent developments and commentary on the Swedish blood libel.

  • Israeli university lecturer Modechai Kedar debates Donald Bostrom in this TV debate:

  • Stephen Dubner, writing on a New York Times blog, talked to one unconvinced organ transplant expert:

Al Roth, the Harvard economist whose work on matched-pair organ donations has started to transform the organ-transplantation scenario, told me he found the accusation unbelievable because of the logistics of organ harvesting itself. “Organs dont last very long and have to be matched rather particularly,” he said, “so it would be hard to take them on spec for an international market. So I think black market organs must mostly be from live donors. Live donors can take blood tests well in advance and travel to where the patient is. Deceased organs have to be put on ice, and the clock starts ticking immediately and fast.”

  • As an Israeli lawyer files a lawsuit against Aftonbladet in a New York court, Alan Dershowitz in the Christian Science Monitor and Yossi Klein-Halevi in The New Republic make compelling arguments for legal action; Paul Schneidereit, writing in the Canadian Chronicle Herald, is equally persuasive against.
  • James Savage, a commentator on Swedish politics for Sweden’s The Local, lists several serious reasons why the Swedish government isn’t going to condemn Aftonbladet.
  • Taking on those, such as Seth Freedman, a frequent contributor to The Guardian’s Comment is Free who would claim that Aftonbladet’s story is not so serious because it targeted the IDF, not Jews in general, David Stavrou, an Israeli writer based in Sweden, says:

The differentiation between Jews and Israel in this case, like in many others, is wishful thinking on the part of many. In reality, there is no differentiation. Like it or not, Israel and the Jewish people are intertwined, each paying the price when the other is attacked, each rising and falling with the others’ successes and failures. Aftonbladet knows this of course and takes advantage of it. They can make racist attacks disguised as legitimate political journalism.

Theirs isn’t traditional anti-Semitism based on religion (the Jews killed Jesus). It isn’t even modern anti-Semitism (the Jews are rich and control the world). This is post modern anti-Semitism. It’s all about ratings and i
t’s business orientated. It sells newspapers. Nobody cares about the truth because it’s subjective anyway, nobody has time for research and you can definitely count on it that no one will take responsibility. The writer gets his 15 minutes of fame; the paper makes millions. And damn the consequences.

  • To make the point how such libels have a willing audience, particularly in the Arab world, MEMRI republishes this cartoon – Israelis Steal Palestinian Martyrs’ Organs, Trample Human Rights Charter – from a Qatari newspaper.

  • But, perhaps demonstrating the sheer lack of credibility behind Aftonbladet’s story is this ringing endorsement from Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which quotes Arab reporter Kusar Aslam as saying that, according to YNet News:
“Since the early 1970s the Israelis have snatched thousands of Palestinian bodies from hospitals in the territories and transferred them to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.”
Aslam, who claims she was stationed in Gaza and the West Bank for 22 years said, “My personal experience verifies the report published by (Donald) Bostrom,” referring to the Aftonbladet reporter who published the original article.
According to Aslam, some of the Palestinians were still alive when they were “kidnapped” by IDF soldiers.
“I personally witnessed Israeli soldiers and army vehicles snatching Palestinian bodies from emergency rooms,” the Iranian reporter said. “In other instances I saw soldiers follow Palestinians to cemeteries with the intent of stealing bodies before they were buried.”



Although the Golan falls under Israeli law, residents of the region wishing to write “Israel” in the Hometown section of their profiles are not give the option.

For example, if someone from Qazrin fills in the Hometown space, the only option will be “Qazrin, Syria.” The same is true for all of the other Jewish towns, including Ramat Magshimim, Geshur, Mevo Hanna, and Had Nes.

It is not for Facebook to decide the national origin of Golan residents. At the very least, Facebook must include the option of writing “Israel” in the hometown section, as it has done with Jewish residents of the West Bank.

Join HonestReporting’s new Facebook group, Facebook, Golan Residents Live in Israel, not Syria and add to the hundreds already calling for Facebook to change its policy.