In particular, we were strongly involved in the "war" of the Danish cartoons, supporting the right of Danish newspapers to publish those cartoons and applauding the Danish government's refusal to become involved.
On the other hand, we have pointed out a few times that some of the
You can argue that freedom of the press should mean just that and anyone can publish anything they like, which raises the question about the absence of those Danish cartoons in any British media outlet. It also raises the question of what the point is of the Press Complaints Commission, but that is for another posting.
We now have a problem in Sweden. There are many good things about that country: their furniture design is superlative, their food is pretty good, and they were defeated by the Russians at Poltava, thus causing Peter the Great and some excellent poetry by Alexander Pushkin. They produced some astonishing singers and I do not mean ABBA. Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson on the Roof are among the best characters in children's literature. Swedish plays and Swedish politics, on the other hand, I find depressing.
The newspaper Aftonbladet comes under the second category. It is an evening paper of many years' standing, somewhat on the left of the political spectrum, being social-democrat and part-owned by the trade unions. Incidentally, I find it astonishing that although it is not the largest circulation Nordic newspaper, it still had 1,425,000 daily readers in 2006. I cannot quite work out whether that number applies to copies sold or whether the usual calculation of two readers per copy is used.
Aftonbladet published an article that accused the IDF on evidence that could be called dubious, that is Palestinian stories that have been denied by the people who had told them and a spurious link with a possible crime in the United States, of killing Palestinians in order to cut out and sell their organs. Naturally enough, the story was picked up by Arab media and the odd Russian writer who maintains that being Jewish allows him to produce rubbish of this kind.
The Israeli government has demanded an apology from the Swedish government, which it refused to give and, though the journalism is clearly shoddy and nastily unpleasant, we have to agree that a government cannot apologize for newspaper articles in a free country. Whether the Swedish government would behave the same way if those cartoons had been published and some Arab countries had demanded an apology is open to question.
In particular, I suspect, the Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, would have reacted differently. In fact, he did react differently. Though on his blog posting on the Aftonbladet affair, Mr Bildt talks much about freedom of the press and refers rather vaguely to the cartoons, he does not apparently mention that at the time the Swedish government was in favour of shutting down the website of the one newspaper that had dared to publish them.
The Italian Foreing Minister, Franco Frattini, has announced that the EU should condemn the newspaper for its article, adding that he had met Mr Bildt to discuss the situation and to encourage the Swedish Presidency to issue a condemnation of anti-Semitism. Mr Bildt has denied that any such discussion had taken place, informing the media that there is some Italian misunderstanding here. (What are these people on?)
Yossi Klein Halevi in the Jewish World Review sums up the various details and suggests that the Israeli government should use the story to highlight the growth of anti-Semitic (shum mishtake shurely - musht mean anti-Israeli) sentiments in parts of Europe and, particularly, on the Left. He also thinks that the Swedish government should have condemned the article without interfering with rights of publication. I am not sure about the second point. Governments should stay out of such rows but they should do so no matter who is being offended.
The most important point the article makes is about modern anti-Semitism, which does not need to be linked to nazism or neo-nazism:
Aftonbladet’s editor, Jan Helin, wrote that he was not a Nazi or an anti-Semite. The first claim is no doubt true, the second debatable. Contrary to widespread assumptions among Europeans, one does not need to be a Nazi to be an anti-Semite. Contemporary European anti-Semitism has two spiritual roots: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The big lie of Zionism as Nazism and of the Jewish state as successor to Nazi Germany originated in Moscow, and became an essential part of Soviet ideology following the 1967 Six-Day War. Of the two versions of modern European anti-Semitism as they exist today, the far more pervasive — and dangerous — is the Soviet version. The rise of Western European anti-Zionism, then, is a posthumous victory for the Soviet Union.If the result of the Aftonbladet scandal is an understanding of that simple point, it will not have been in vain. But I am not holding my breath.