Israel presses Sweden to condemn 'anti-Semitic' story

JERUSALEM, Aug 23, 2009 (AFP) - Israel pressed Stockholm on Sunday to condemn a story by a Swedish newspaper about alleged body-snatching that has stoked tensions between the two countries.

"The crisis will continue as long as the Swedish government doesn't change its attitude toward this anti-Semitic article," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters. "Those who do not condemn it are not welcome in Israel."

The comments came two weeks before Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was to visit Israel, with Stockholm currently holding the rotating EU presidency.

"There is no question of canceling or delaying this visit, but it is clear that this incident will cast a worrying shadow over meetings if it is not resolved," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai (C) speaks with an unidentified minister prior to the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 23, 2009 (AFP photo)

Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper sparked the row last week when it published a report claiming Israeli soldiers snatched Palestinian youths to steal their organs and returned their dismembered bodies a few days later.

The Swedish government has declined to condemn the piece, saying it has to respect the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution.

The article has sparked outrage in Israel, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and scores of commentators calling it a "blood libel" smacking of anti-Semitic accusations against Jews.

"The Swedish government cannot keep silent any longer. In the Middle Ages, slander was spread accusing Jews of preparing Passover matza (unleavened bread) with the blood of Christian children," Steinitz said.

"And today it is IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers who are accused of killing Palestinians to take their organs," he said.

The head of the Israeli Government Press Office, Daniel Seaman, said on Sunday he would not give accreditation to two of the newspaper's reporters.

"We are not obliged to accredit them. It will take time. We have to conduct verifications, maybe to examine their blood type to know whether they can be organ donors," Seaman, known for controversial statements, told army radio.

Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, the Swedish ambassador to Israel, had initially expressed outrage at the article, but Stockholm distanced itself from her remarks several days later, drawing a stinging response from Israeli officials.

Source: AFP

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