In an apparent attempt to revivify medieval anti-Semitic blood libels, the Swedish culture and news magazine “Filter” ran a 17-page article in its most recent issue, in which it vindicated the author of a 2009 polemical piece that charged Israel with “stealing human organs” from young Palestinian men, and then killing them.
By Fern Sidman, The Jewish Voice
December 12, 2012
Originally appearing in another Swedish magazine called “Aftonbladet”, author Donald Boström leveled accusations at the Israel Defense Forces of purportedly absconding with human organs belonging to 69 Palestinian men in the early 1990s. Asserting that the IDF conducted “macabre operations” in the West Bank, Boström told his readers that these unnamed Palestinian men in the “occupied territories” were “being captured and tortured, subjected to involuntary autopsies, and then robbed of their organs before being killed.”
Roundly categorized as “yellow journalism” by reputable media outlets for its unsubstantiated claims and for promulgating mendacious conspiracy theories, the article in its original publication also sparked a diplomatic crisis. When it first appeared in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the Swedish government take the newspaper to task for its propaganda appeal and Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor called it “a mark of disgrace” for the Swedish press.
The thrust of Boström’s indictment against Israel as an international “human organ peddler” is predicated on an amorphous connection with events that took place years apart. He points to the 2009 organ trafficking ring in New Jersey that was masterminded by a Brooklyn rabbi named Levy Izchak Rosenbaum. According to authorities, the operation brokered the sale of black-market kidneys (buying them from Israel and selling them to U.S. patients). Boström then links this “supply and demand” theory to Israel’s low organ donation rates in the early 1990s. Moreover, speaking of interviews he conducted with Palestinian families and UN employees while in Israel in the 1990s, Boström suggests that the International Court of Justice launch an investigation into the Israeli army for the “theft of human organs and murder” based on the claims of such activity that these people allegedly made to him.
The firestorm of publicity that erupted in the aftermath of the article’s publication not only generated adverse implications for Boström but also for Aftonbladet’s editor, Åsa Linderborg, who had been hired just two months before the article appeared in print. Linderborg dismisses critiques that the story reflected centuries-old anti-Semitic canards and says that charges against the publication for promoting conspiracy theories are entirely unfounded. She is quoted as saying, “There is this pattern in Sweden that if you criticize Israel’s actions towards Palestine you are labeled as an anti-Semite and that is why many journalists here keep quiet on this issue.”
Despite its extraordinary length, however, the Filter article lacks any verifiable evidence to substantiate the bilious claims about the IDF and glosses over the pervasive accusations that Aftonbladet had intentionally presented Boström’s story in a tendentious climate against Israel. The Filter piece also assigns blame to critics for the polemical maelstrom that ensued, asserting simply that readers “cried anti-Semitism a bit too soon.”
Not everyone is in agreement with Filter’s supposition, and detractors of the Aftonbladet story from across the political spectrum insist that the article represented irresponsible journalism at best, and, at worst, was blatantly anti-Semitic. Jonathan Leman, a reporter for Expo, an anti-racist magazine, says, “It is absolutely not anti-Semitic in itself to present accusations about Israel, but it so happens that these ideas about global networks of Jews and of organ plundering very closely match classic, medieval anti-Semitic accusations that can also be found in racist and right-wing forums today. And so, if you move in that territory you have to be aware of this and be aware that your story can be misused by intolerant people. And that is, in fact, precisely what has happened. But it’s as if Linderborg and Boström are unwilling even to entertain that thought.”
Flush with a sense of victory by Filter’s “vindication” of their actions, Linderborg and her associates have published pompous editorials in which they castigate the Swedish media for what they label as their “betrayal.” They have also proffered arguments insisting that the uproar caused by Boström’s article had a direct impact in bringing illegal organ trading in Israel to a screeching halt.
In an effort to defend his writing, Boström told reporters that, “I wanted to include all the material I had to make people feel like: OK, he knows what he’s talking about, he’s spoken to people on both sides, he’s gone through the material.”
What Boström neglected to report was the truth about illegal organ removals in Israel. About a decade before the New Jersey organ trafficking story appeared, the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Achronot published a detailed investigative piece about the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Israel and its chief pathologist, Yehuda Hiss.
Published evidence reveals that during the 1990s Hiss had engaged in illegal extrications of bodily organs and tissues, and replaced them with toilet paper rolls and metallic rods to hide the thefts. In 2001, Israel ordered an inquiry into these nefarious practices and had confirmed their veracity. Yediot reported that Hiss, along with his staff, had taken thousands of indiscriminate body parts from 125 people including Israeli soldiers, Palestinians, tourists and guest workers. Offering a public disclosure of his misdeeds, Hiss spoke candidly about the illegal confiscation of organs in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Boström, however, neglected to mention this in his piece.
Yediot Ahronot reporter Ronen Bergman, who was behind the exposé, recently told Swedish Radio that he was “shocked” when reading Aftonbladet’s story. He asserts that they had “distorted and falsified” the findings of reports by directly implying that the IDF was purposefully targeting Palestinians in order to slake the desires of the rogue pathologist at Abu Kabir. “What I discovered is that the forensic institute was stealing organs from everybody … the only criteria was if the bodies were fresh enough and if the staff would be able to hide the organs without being caught,” he said. “The IDF was not involved in any way.”
Now admitting that both Israelis and Palestinians had been victimized in this grotesque crime at Abu Kabir, Linderborg says that the Palestinian men “were not killed because Israel needed organs but they were killed in a conflict with Israel and one took the opportunity to take their organs.” This admission, of course, is a completely different version of the events that transpired from the original 2009 story that Aftonbladet published. The wording of the original article had led readers to believe that young Palestinian men were “captured” by Israeli soldiers and were an essential part of Israel’s “organ bank” at a juncture in history when the Israeli populace was highly reluctant to sign up for voluntary donations.
“When Aftonbladet, a big Swedish newspaper, publishes a text like this it carries a certain weight and that is why it is constantly referenced,” said Leman, the journalist from Expo magazine. “For instance it was cited by those who claimed that Israeli relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake were a smokescreen for organ theft operations.”
Linderborg, however, remains adamant that there are potent geopolitical components to this story, and she apparently refuses to acknowledge her own biases in the face of clear cut facts and inexorable proof. “However you twist and turn Boström’s article and the Israel-Palestine conflict, in the end it’s about one and the same issue, and that is that Palestinians are being killed by Israel in a 64-year-old conflict,” she said.
On another front in Sweden, it appears that in the wake of a devastating series of anti-Semitic attacks, including a recent assault on two Jewish women in Malmo, the president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC), Moshe Kantor, was prompted to warn that the Swedish Jewish community “is in grave danger.”
Kantor ruefully observed that “the community is slowly being pushed out; it is dying” of what he termed ‘a thousand cuts.’ He added that, “The situation is intolerable for Jews in Malmo and every week we hear of another attack. Each attack should be seen and dealt with as part of a greater pattern to make Jewish life unsustainable in Sweden. The attacks against Jews should be seen in their entirety, and there is a concerted attempt to rid certain areas of Sweden, if not the whole country, of Jews.”
On two occasions earlier last week, huge swastikas were scrawled on several doors belonging to two separate Jewish homes in Malmo, according to a report in Sydsvenskan, a local daily. The paper reports that one home was burglarized and amongst items that were stolen were a computer and Judaica. As the perpetrators of the robbery returned to the scene of the crime, it was reported that the homeowners called police four times during the weekend. Prior to this home invasion and robbery, vandals attacked a synagogue in Malmo, a rabbi was viciously brutalized in the street and several assaults were carried out against the Jewish community in the last couple of months.
According to statements made to the media by Kantor, “The EJC will request a meeting with the Prime Minister of Sweden to discuss the issue and the need for greater policing, enforcement of anti-racism laws and a long-term strategy for dealing with the attacks on the Jewish community because we are reaching a tipping point for the Jews in Sweden.”
Lena Posner-Korosi, President of the Swedish Council of Jewish Communities, exhorted the political leadership in Malmo as well as the government of Sweden to employ all measures, “to end the spiral of increased hatred and violence against Jews in the country.” She added that, “Breaking into Jewish homes and deliberately stealing items of great personal and emotional value is outrageous.”
In a separate but somewhat related matter, a controversy has arisen over a Swedish artist who took human ashes from the Majdanek concentration camp and used them for a painting that is now hanging in a gallery in the Swedish city of Lund.
The London Telegraph reports that during a 1989 visit to the infamous Nazi extermination site, artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff took human ashes that he found there and then mixed them with water to compose a small painting of gray streaks. At the height of World War II, from 1941 through 1944, approximately 79,000 Polish Jews were murdered by the Nazis at Majdanek.
Von Hausswolff said the ashes appeared to “contain the memories and the souls of people; people tormented and murdered by other people in the most vicious war of the 20th Century.”
Condemning the painting as ”revolting” is Salomon Schulman, a leading voice in Sweden’s Jewish community and one who has lost many relatives in the Holocaust. “Who knows,” Schulman wrote in a letter to a local newspaper. “Maybe some of the ashes originated from my relatives. No one knows where they were deported: all my mother’s siblings and their children, and my grandparents. I will never go to this gallery and view the desecration of Jewish bodies. I am sickened by his work and obsession with necrophilia.”
Despite the scandal surrounding the painting, Martin Bryder, the owner of the Lund gallery, defended the decision to exhibit the “work of art,” saying in an interview with the Polish News Agency, “Please come to the gallery, see the painting and judge for yourselves whether it’s controversial.” Bryder further stated, “Mr. Schulman has already declared in the papers that he won’t come and see it but if he did, perhaps he would have a different opinion.”