Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update on Swedish Blood Libel: A Second Story Tries to "Prove" It's True

Update (August 26) Here's a very good point on this issue by a blogger who usually follows economic issues:

"Al Roth, the Harvard economist whose work on matched-pair organ donations has started to transform the organ-transplantation scenario, told me he found the accusation unbelievable because of the logistics of organ harvesting itself. “Organs don’t last very long and have to be matched rather particularly,” he said, “so it would be hard to take them on spec for an international market. So I think black market organs must mostly be from live donors. Live donors can take blood tests well in advance and travel to where the patient is. Deceased organs have to be put on ice, and the clock starts ticking immediately and fast.”.

But the article also makes a very important general point which any Swedish or other journalist should take seriously:

"This isn’t to say that all rumors are untrue, but there is perhaps no easier trap for a journalist to fall into than to listen to the harshest accusations of one group of people that is at war with another."

Of course, this is exactly how more than 90 percent of the slanderous and inaccurate articles about Israel originate.

Update (August 23) Ilya Meyer makes two excellent points:

"There is an increasingly wide gap between the vast majority of everyday, honest, highly ethical Swedes in this country, on the one hand, and the deeply anti-Israel/often anti-Semitic politicized leadership of the Church of Sweden, the rabidly anti-Israel Left-leaning media, and politicians paralysed by blinkered dedication to political correctness, on the other."


"It never occurred to either Boström or Aftonbladet to point out the absurdity of organ-harvesting claims when the donors in question have been killed with extreme trauma – which would render their organs unusable. Not just through physical damage to the organs themselves, but through infection after bodily fluids leaked through surrounding tissue into the organs to be harvested. Organ transplantation requires the utmost clinical sterility; shooting someone dead in a dusty street and then waiting while a suitable vehicle is found to transport the corpse to a nearby facility for the necessary immediate surgery is not exactly a scenario that is set to succeed."

In proper journalism, the cultural editor of the newspaper would have said: On the face of this, it is absurd. But what is scary is not just the antisemitism but the abandonment of rationality altogether. If they can do this to Israel they can (and do) do this to the United States and others. And, again, what is important is not this particular story but the mentality and media style it demonstrates.

By Barry Rubin

The editor said it was just an op-ed piece and blamed powerful forces (i.e., the international Jewish conspiracy?) for trying to block discussion of an important topic (Israel's government making money out of organ-selling?)

Now, unintimidated by this alleged onslaught and backed up by the Swedish government, the newspaper has published a second article claiming--in fact, the newspaper no doubt would say "proving"--its case. The article is discussed here.

What are the  salient points that make this propaganda, a part of the anti-Israel campaign rather than reporting.

It consists of an interview with a Palestinian family that makes outrageous claims. No examination of the evidence, no reaction from Israel's side, no consideration of the context. Is the Israeli economy so bad off that it requires a supplement from the organ-selling business?

This is not reporting, it is called a press release.

And then there is the Swedish governmental complicity in this matter, since the original accusations were made in a book subsidized with its funds. There's also far more behind the surface. For example, there is now a whispering campaign about alleged Jewish influence in Sweden, including personal attacks on the country's ambassador to Israel for issuing a very carefully worded semi-apology.

Finally, this affair is only one of a number of such stories appearing simultaneously. In the focus on Sweden, an equally bad blood libel story in the Netherlands' leading newspaper is being ignored. It accuses Jews of being Satan-worshippers who spread the swine flu. No, that's not an exaggeration.

So here is how the system works. Palestinians or other Arabs or other Muslims, individuals or groups, tell incredible lies about Israel and then these are uncritically published in Western media. Aren't reporters supposed to examine stories for accuracy BEFORE they are published? And aren't editors supposed to critically look at what their publishing to see if it is credible?

I'm reminded of a little story from Agence-France Presse a few years ago. It reported that Israeli soldiers had seized a Palestinian television station and were broadcasting pornography to the West Bank. Naturally, the correspondent need merely turn on his television and click through the channels to see if he could find these alleged broadcasts. But no reporter bothered to do so before issuing the story. After all, a Palestinian told them that it was true.

It is also important to note that only the most ridiculous stories get this kind of debunking attention. There are plenty of seemingly more credible stories that are falsehoods. The stories about aphrodesiac chewing gum, poisoning wells (that one spread by Yasir Arafat's wife among others), Israel assassinating Arafat with germ warfare (now the official Fatah position), pornographic tv broadcasts, and perhaps even organ thefts will be laughed at by many in the West. But what about the false claims of specific atrocities, the slanders about Israel's conduct in the 2006 Hizballah and 2009 Hamas wars?

One can imagine a European sophisticate saying: "Sure, it's silly to say that Israelis eat Palestinian babies for lunch. They just deliberately bomb them."

So let's not get caught up in the narrow aspects of the Swedish story.

And what of the media's selectivity? We can make a list of dozens of articles that could be written with far more basis than this one but which a large portion of the European media (obviously there are many exceptions) ignores:

Hamas's Talibanization of the Gaza Strip; Iranian and Syrian backing for terrorism, indoctrination of children to be terrorists and suicide bombers on children's shows; incitement to murder Jews and Israelis on official Palestinian Authority media; murderous antisemitic incitement in the official media of Syria, Iran, and also the Saudi media; Israel's humanitarian efforts; Israeli medical technology and hi-tech achievements that benefit Western consumers; and so on.

For goodness sake, all one has to do is watch what's on Hamas or Palestinian television, read what's in the Syrian or Egyptian media. No extensive investigative reporting is required.

The real problem, of course, isn't so much the attacks on Israel but the decline of the Western tradition of responsible journalism. Of course, there has always been a lot of sensationalism. But focusing on the love affairs of movie stars or spectacular crime stories to sell more newspapers is not quite the same thing as what's happening now.

What is different here is not only that style's penetration into hitherto serious newspapers but also it's harnessing in a campaign of slander against specific targets. This isn't journalism, it's warfare. And the Swedish blood libel story is the least of it. The main problem is the kind of misleading regular coverage documented here and coming from Associated Press and Reuters much of the time.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

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