A Swedish newspaper provoked outrage in Israel and drew condemnation from Sweden's ambassador on Wednesday after it ran a story on transplant organ theft, a report an Israeli official branded anti-Semitic "hate porn".
The editor of Aftonbladet hit back hard, at both Israel and at the Swedish envoy for attacking his paper's coverage.
The tabloid 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.
"This article has clear elements of medieval blood libels against Jews," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. Accusing the paper of encouraging hate crimes, he said: "This is intolerable."
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.
Helin called it an opinion piece raising questions of Israel in the context of a suspected link to Israel in that US case. He denied any suggestion of anti-Semitism from his paper.
But in remarks reflecting Israeli anger at foreign, and notably European, criticism of the treatment of Palestinians, especially since January's war in Gaza, Israeli officials and commentators came out in force to air historical Jewish grievances against Europe in general and Swedes in particular.
Those ranged from the European "blood libels" of the Middle Ages – that Jews made ritual use of Christian babies' blood – to modern resentments about Sweden's neutrality toward Hitler.
One editorialist even recalled the Swedish UN mediator killed by Jewish gunmen in Jerusalem in 1947 – that Swede, he noted bitterly, had favored Palestine's Arabs during partition and tried to crimp the borders of the future Israeli state.
Distancing Stockholm from the story while stressing Sweden's press freedom, ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier said: "The article ... 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."
Palmor said Israel was considering legal action and that the editors should at least apologize for an "unspeakable piece".
Tensions with Stockholm are not new. Israel's ambassador damaged an artwork at a gallery there in 2004. He said the work, about a Palestinian woman suicide bomber, glorified killers.
The latest spat brought out strong language against Sweden.
Alluding to stereotypes of Scandinavia, Foreign Ministry official Yossi Levy was quoted as saying of Aftonbladet's story: "This is hate porn, made in Sweden."