LOS ANGELES (JTA) — With the Palestinian family cited in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet now denying ever claiming that their son’s organs were “stolen” by the Israeli military, maybe the lurid and grotesque accusation published by the newspaper in mid-August will disappear.
Maybe the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy stretching from Israel to New Jersey harvesting the flesh of Palestinian innocents will be forgotten except as a 21st-century footnote to the odious blood libel tradition. It’s a tradition that dates back to Apion of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus who accused Jews of kidnapping non-Jewish captives to be fattened and eaten at the Sabbath feast.
But perhaps this screed is only a harbinger of a new epidemic of lies against Jews the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Hitler and Stalin.
During the Middle Ages, the libel of Jewish ritual murder was carved into the very stones of Frankfurt’s city wall. In 2009, it’s hard to see a difference between the virulent hostility toward the Jewish state by Sweden’s largest left-leaning paper and the newspaper of the country’s far right, the Svenska Motstandsrorelsen.
Sweden’s ambassador to Israel immediately denounced the obviously phony blood libel, but then had the ground cut out from under her by her own government’s assertion that it had to stand behind “constitutionally protected free speech.”
What a curious time to stand behind freedom of the press. During World War II, Stockholm took a different view when it censored newspapers to prevent publication of stories critical of “neutral” Sweden providing Nazi Germany with iron ore and ball bearings, as well as safe passage for German soldiers posing as Red Cross personnel.
Are the baseless charges splashed across a double spread in the style section of Aftonbladet anti-Semitic? Of course, but that’s not the worst of it.
Sweden’s government, through its defense of the indefensible, has sanctioned Aftonbladet’s trafficking in political anti-Semitism — a very different beast than the everyday kind of prejudice still experienced by Jews or African Americans and other minorities.
Historically, this virulent ideology not only has justified social and economic discrimination against Jews. In Europe, it also opened the door to ghettoization, pogroms, deportations, yellow stars and, ultimately, mass murder.
Make no mistake about it, there is an international conspiracy afoot in the 21st century, but it’s a not a secret Jewish plot out of the pages of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” It’s an open coalition of Palestinian extremists and their collaborators in Europe and North America who don’t even try to hide their coordinated efforts to make Israel into a pariah state — “the Jew among nations” — as a prelude to elimination.
For 20 years, Palestinian extremists and their Mideast allies, including Tehran’s mullah-cracy, have been accusing Israelis and Jews of murdering non-Jewish innocents to profit from their blood. A few years ago, the Iran government’s TV channel Sahara aired a weekly drama titled “Zahra’s Blue Eyes” that portrayed “Zionist” doctors kidnapping little Palestinian children to harvest their organs.
These fantasies, increasingly marketed as fact, are part of a broader Palestinian hate literature claiming that the AIDS virus is an Israeli ethnic bomb designed to selectively murder Africans and Arabs. There is even the new charge in Palestinian media outlets funded by the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands that the swine flu is an Israeli/Jewish conspiracy.
Worthy of winning our new Ignoble Prize for this year’s vilest anti-Jewish libel, Aftonbladet has managed to mainstream a favorite Palestine libel, as well as update it, by accusing New Jersey rabbis arrested for money laundering of involvement with Israeli soldiers in an international Jewish organ harvesting ring.
The revived libel has now made the leap from medieval times, resurfacing in postmodern Europe.
(Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.)