to Condemn Organ Libel is Bogus
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Posted: 25 Aug 2009 03:58 PM PDT
The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, has refused to condemn a “blood libel” published by one of Sweden’s leading newspapers, Aftonbladet. The article outrageously claims that Jewish soldiers in Israel killed Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. The writer of the article, Donald Bostrom has acknowledged, according to the New York Times, that “he has no idea whether the accusations are true.” Yet a widely-read Swedish newspaper was prepared to publish this undocumented and highly volatile accusation, without requiring its author to present any credible evidence.
This false accusation is reminiscent of the medieval blood libels that falsely accused Jews of killing Christian children in order to use their blood for religious rituals.
Not only has foreign minister Bildt refused to issue to a personal condemnation of the current “organ libel,” his foreign ministry explicitly disavowed the denunciation that was issued by Sweden’s Ambassador to Israel, who had called the article “shocking and appalling.” In a self-righteous statement, Mr. Bildt claimed that condemnation of the article would be inappropriate because freedom of expression is a part of the Swedish Constitution.
This is a bogus and ignorant argument, as anyone who understands freedom of speech will attest. I have devoted much of my life to defending freedom of speech and consider myself something of an expert on the matter. Nobody is talking about censoring the Swedish press or imprisoning the writer of the absurd article. What we are talking about is expanding the marketplace of ideas to include a completely warranted condemnation of sloppy journalism and outrageous accusations that foment an already increasing anti-Semitism in Sweden. Freedom of speech is based on an open and vibrant marketplace of ideas. No journalist is immune from criticism for bigotry and defamation, even from high ranking government officials.
Recall that virtually every government official in Europe went out of their way to condemn the depiction of perfectly innocent cartoons that offended some Muslims by portraying Mohammed. (More recently, the Yale Press withdrew these cartoons and other classic art depicting Mohammed out of fear of violent reaction.) Without getting into the business of comparative offensiveness, no reasonable person could argue that depicting a long-dead religious figure comes anywhere close to falsely accusing contemporary Jews of murdering innocent Palestinians to steal their organs.
The reality is that the Swedish government, long known for its cowardice, simply does not want to get into a fight with the Muslim world, much as it didn’t want to get into a fight with the Nazi’s during the Second World War. Sweden is perfectly willing to sell out the Jews in the name of neutrality, or in this case, in the false name of freedom of expression. Its silence is beneath contempt.
I am offended by Sweden’s craven complicity with evil not only as a Jew, but also as a strong defender of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech carries with it certain obligations as well. One of those is to condemn false speech. The best answer to false speech is not censorship, it is truthfulness. By remaining silent in the face of the bigoted falsities contained in the Aftonbladet article, the Swedish foreign minister inevitably creates the impression that he sympathizes with the writer, and perhaps even with his conclusions. Mr. Bildt, too, has freedom of speech, which he has exercised on many occasions. By choosing not to exercise it on this occasion—or even worse, by exercising it to criticize the Swedish Ambassador to Israel for her condemnation of the article—Bildt becomes a facilitator of bigotry. He should be ashamed of himself. His country should be ashamed of him. And if his country is not ashamed of him, then every decent person in the world should be ashamed of Sweden.
Silence in the face of evil is not an option. As Edmund Burke reminded us many years ago: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” To that I may add, “Or say nothing.”