Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has rejected Israeli calls for official condemnation of a Swedish newspaper article about organ harvesting, saying freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy.
In his blog Thursday, Bildt also rejected claims that Sweden harbors anti-Semitic feelings, adding that the condemnation of anti-Semitism was the only issue in which he has been involved where there has ever been complete unity in the Swedish Parliament.
Bildt said that he would not condemn an article in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that suggested Israeli troops had harvested the organs of dead Palestinians. He said freedom of expression is part of the Swedish constitution.
"Freedom of expression and press freedom are very strong in our constitution by tradition. And that strong protection has served our democracy and our country well," Bildt wrote. "If I were engaged in editing all strange debate contributions in different media I probably wouldn't have time to do much else."
He also drew a parallel between the current debate and the outrage triggered by the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in 2005.
"When we had an agitated discussion about what many people saw as official defamation of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, I think we gained an understanding that it is through openness that we best build the tolerance and the understanding that is so important in our society," Bildt wrote. "That is my belief in this case too."
Bildt said he understood why the article stirred strong emotions in Israel, but said basic values in society are best protected by free discussion.
The article, published Monday, implied without evidence that there was a link between charges of organ theft from Palestinians and the recent arrest in the United States of an American Jew suspected of illicit organ trafficking.
Headlined "Our sons are plundered for their organs," the story made news in Israel, where officials described it as racist and accused it of using "vile anti-Semitic themes."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he planned to make a "serious protest" to Bildt over the Swedish Foreign Ministry's previous decision not to comment on the article.
"A country that truly wants to defend democratic values must strongly condemn deceitful reports with an odor of anti-Semitism of the kind published this week in Aftonbladet," Lieberman said in a statement.
He also compared the Swedish government's decision to the country's neutrality during WWII.