Sweden's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said a response by the Swedish Embassy in Israel to a report by the Aftonbladet news saying IDF soldiers killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs does not represent the government's stance.
The embassy had stated that the report was "appalling". But the Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman said, "The embassy in Tel Aviv responded in accordance to Israeli public opinion, however the Swedish government is committed to freedom of the press."
She added that Israel had not issued an official complaint on the report.
Another Swedish government spokesperson, Anders Jorle said, "The Foreign Ministry would not have acted in the same way" as the ambassador.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed surprise at Sweden's failure to denounce the article. "We would have expected them to warmly adopt the condemnation and denouncement of the tasteless article, just as the ambassador did," a Jerusalem source said.
A storm broke out when the Swedish daily repeated Palestinian accusations dating to the early 1990s that Israeli troops took organs from men who died in custody. The article began by noting a case in New Jersey where an American Jew has been charged over trafficking in kidneys.
The article angered Israeli officials, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "This article has clear elements of medieval blood libels against Jews." Accusing the paper of encouraging hate crimes, he added: "This is intolerable."
In response to the report, Swedish Ambassador to Israel Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier said on Wednesday, "It is as shocking and appalling to us Swedes as it is to Israeli citizens. We share the dismay expressed by Israeli government representatives, media and the Israeli public."
Following the ambassador's remarks, Aftonbladet editor Jan Helin said: "It's deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table.
He accused the Swedish ambassador of "a flagrant assault on freedom of speech" for her criticisms and denied any suggestion of anti-Semitism from his paper.
'Layers of anti-Semitism'
The Foreign Ministry rejected Sweden's claim that Israel did not file an official complaint on the report. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy told Ynet, "The ambassador in Sweden, Benny Dagan brought the matter up with the Swedish Foreign Ministry, and will hold a meeting with a senior Swedish official tomorrow in which he will lay down our complaints, as well as our expectations.
"This is not a report that we can live with. The ugly undertone of the report uncovers layers of anti-Semitism that link Jews, blood and money. We live in the year 2009. When we heard the reporters staggering explanation of 'I don't know if the accusations are true, but they should be examined', and the indirect justification he got from the paper's editor, it made us even angrier and more concerned," he said.
"How is this allegation any different than the primitive claims made in anti-Semitic circles?" he continued.
"The average reader in Stockholm, Uppsala and Malmo, deserves balanced, objective and fair media coverage of the Middle East, and not a brew of bloody lies and hearsay.
"We have nothing against freedom of expression, which Israel cherishes no less than Sweden does, but we have a lot against anti-Semitism… and we expect to hear clear and lucid voices condemning the use of fallacious manipulations against Israel and Jews."
AFP and Reuters contributed to this report