Last August, a story published by the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet led to a diplomatic incident with Israel, exposing once again the raw nerves of the Middle East's longest-running conflict.
Headlined, “Our sons are plundered for their organs,” the article included the sensational claim that Israel's chief pathologist had been harvesting organs from Palestinians without their family's permission. Its author, Donald Bostrom, also hinted that Israeli soldiers hunted down live Palestinians and killed them for their organs.
As it turned out, one of the allegations was true. The other allegation – the untrue one – led to a diplomatic near-crisis between Israel and Sweden.
Haaretz, Israel's most important liberal daily, broke the story on its website with the attention-grabbing headline, “Top Sweden newspaper says IDF kills Palestinians for their organs.” The article includes a link to the original Swedish article; Stockholm-based journalist Rami Abdelrahman later published a full English translation on his blog.
An uproar ensued. Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, accused the Swedish government of perpetrating a blood libel, requesting that it condemn Aftonbladet.
The Swedish government refused to accede to Israel's request, citing freedom of the press in a democratic state.
Swedish reactions to the anti-Israeli blood libel report. In an article for The New Republic, journalist Yossi Klein Halevi compared Aftonbladet's editor to a Nazi, writing that Israel was right to fight the 'Swedish blood libel.', the former Israeli ambassador to the UN and currently head of a think-tank called the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published an academic-style article called
Interestingly, Lena Posner-Korosi, the head of the Jewish community in Sweden, told the Jerusalem Post that none of the Swedish newspapers had picked up the Aftonbladet story, and that the Jewish community had not reacted as strongly as the Israeli government. She implied that Israel might be over-reacting to a story that would have attracted little attention, were it not for the article in Haaretz.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, those who supported Aftonbladet substituted the Swedish flag for their profile photos and created fan pages for the Swedish tabloid. In a gesture of support, the National Federation of Algerian Journalists presented Daniel Bostrom with an award for excellence.
Three months later, Israel's Channel 2 broadcast an interview with Yehuda Hiss, the former chief pathologist of Israel, in which he casually admitted to having harvested organs from cadavers in the national forensic institute. He harvested the organs - mainly corneas - for several years during the 1990s. His unknowing 'donors' were Palestinians and Jews - the latter including an IDF soldier.
Hiss, who is now under investigation, turns out to be an equal-opportunity illegal organ harvester. He did not judge the value of a cadaver by its ethnicity, but rather by the quality of its harvestable organs.
Blogger Didi Remez translated the Hebrew-language Channel 2 report (video here) into English and published the transcript. Hiss's self-made audio recording is a study in near-pathological arrogance. The former chief pathologist takes casual responsibility for harvesting organs. He does not express any regret.
According to the journalist who did the report for Channel 2, Hiss "...employed a simple and cheap process that lasted only a few minutes. Hiss or one of his subordinate doctors would examine a corpse that arrived in the institute and quickly remove corneas that were to be transplanted." Apparently the forensic physicians working under Hiss's supervision were afraid to speak up, lest they be dismissed from their jobs.
The next day, the Guardian and Haaretz, Al Jazeera and many other prominent news outlets, announced that Israel confirmed its chief pathologist had indeed harvested organs without consent.
In the strangest twist of all, Daniel Bostrom - the Swedish journalist who started the whole controversy - actually came to Israel and agreed to appear on two separate Israeli talk shows.
He was booed off the stage of the first show, Ulpan Shishi, a Yair Lapid. That same week, Bostrom was interviewed by Avri Gilad, whose talk show is broadcast by rival Channel 10. This time the interview was pre-recorded, so Bostrom could speak uninterrupted.style show hosted by popular Israeli journalist
The interview appears in the YouTube clip above. It is in English, following a 30-second Hebrew introduction.