According to Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, Sweden has a major problem: freedom of speech. Israel has generously offered its help in solving the problem, by requesting the Swedish government to disregard its laws concerning freedom of the press. Israel is demanding that the Swedish government condemn an article that Aftonbladet published on August 17th that reports on allegations which Israel’s government and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) both deny.
Israel also denies having nuclear weapons, that it ever used white phosphorus on civilians and that it uses Palestinians as human shields. I don’t mean to imply that all allegations toward Israel are true; rather, my point is that Israel’s knee-jerk repudiations ought to be taken with a grain of salt. The best way to find out whether an allegation has any basis is to get to the bottom of it—the sooner, the better.
But first, let me remind those who, despite what they know to be true, continue propagating otherwise:
For 42 years, Israel has ignored UN resolutions, the Geneva Convention and international law.
For 42 years, Israel’s government and Israeli media have automatically rejected any allegations against the IDF of humanitarian crimes as anti-Semitic. It is important to emphasize that the crimes referred to here are illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, mass evictions, extrajudicial executions and collective punishment; not the suspicions that certain Palestinian families have of the IDF.
And now that the Israeli government and Israeli media is busy spreading false, spiteful accusations, enthusiastically cheered on by a few Swedish journalists and politicians, the same pattern emerges: The central issue is not what the article says, but how it can be used. This was the same tactic used against/on me when a former Israeli Ambassador vandalized my installation piece “Snow White and the Madness of Truth”.
The article that has Israel seeing red does state that young Palestinians who have been wanted by the IDF have been killed, and that their bodies have been returned and sewn together in a way that has raised their families’ suspicions that their organs have been removed. Perhaps the apparent connection between a few specific IDF soldiers’ alleged actions in 1992 and the recently exposed organ trade scandal is unfortunate. But we can still ask the question: What happened to those bodies?
And neither the Palestinian families nor the journalist, Donald Boström, has spoken or written about Jewish soldiers: the allegations are against the IDF soldiers, who may have been involved in certain specific incidents.
The Israeli Army is not a Jewish army. It comprises a multitude of ethnicities and religions. For example, Druze and Bedouins, to name two, are not Jewish (20 percent of Israel’s citizens are non-Jewish). Furthermore, there are more Jews living outside Israel than inside Israel. Therefore, it is obvious to most people, including Boström, that it is both inaccurate and racist to associate Jewish people with the alleged crimes of the IDF. And, for the record, Boström’s article did not make that misguided association. In addition, it is obvious that Jewish people should not be indicted for the documented crimes that have been committed by the State of Israel and the IDF over the last 42 years.
That some people still insist on making that inaccurate and distasteful association should not prevent any serious critique or investigation of wrongdoing. Such a taboo would become an unspoken restriction on our freedom of speech. Puzzlingly enough, those who automatically equate Israel with Jewish people and vice versa are two very incompatible groups: Israel’s government, cheered on by the so-called friends of Israel, is one; the other group consists of various racist and anti-Semitic factions.
But apparently, Sweden must learn, from the excellent example set by Israel, what real democracy looks like and what true freedom of speech sounds like.
In Israel, voices are being raised, calling for an infringement on free speech for all those who are considered to “defame” Israel. Among the alleged defamers is Dr. Neve Gordon, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times on August 20th that Israel fulfills all criteria for an apartheid state, since some of its laws give Jews advantages and discriminate against Palestinians.
Sweden should safeguard its freedom of speech, rather than adopt Israel’s whimsical view of freedom of the press and democracy.
But instead, Israel’s significantly more confined debate culture is seeping into our country, carried forth by opinion-makers like Gunnar Hökmark, who is more than thrilled to assist Israel in, unobstructedly, continuing to break international law. And therefore, reckless attacks and unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism are hurled at anyone, or anything, that calls Israel’s self-image into question.
It is striking that while demanding that the Swedish government condemn an article in Aftonbladet, Israel itself is busy piling roadblocks in the way of an international UN commission to investigate Israel’s potential crimes against international humanitarian law in the Occupied Territories in general, and injustices committed by the Israeli Army in Gaza in particular.
Automatically preventing any insight, and rejecting any suspicions—regardless of whether they are brought forth in a “sensationalist article” or through a sincere UN assignment—only hurts the Israeli people and casts shame upon Israel.
Dror Feiler is a musician, artist and the Chairman of European Jews for Just Peace.
He fulfilled his military obligation, serving as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army in 1969–1972.