JERUSELAM:Sweden’s foreign minister abruptly called off a visit to Israel this week, an Israeli spokesman said today, amid a feud over a Swedish newspaper article and a growing gulf between Israel and the international community over West Bank settlement construction.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has called off a trip to Israel planned for this Friday, according to Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Palmor, who would not comment on a possible reason for the move, said Sweden informed Israel’s embassy in Stockholm of the decision on Friday.
The Swedish decision came the same day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew international condemnation for deciding to approve hundreds of new apartments in West Bank settlements in defiance of US, European and Palestinian calls for a total settlement freeze. Sweden holds the rotating European Union presidency.
But the cancellation also followed a diplomatic feud between Israel and Sweden over an unsubstantiated article in a Swedish tabloid that accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs from dead Palestinians and suggested a connection with an international organ trafficking ring run by Jews. Israeli officials condemned the article as anti-Semitic and reminiscent of medieval blood libels against Jews.
Swedish officials denied a connection between the cancellation and the newspaper article, but offered differing explanations for Bildt’s decision not to come.
Anna Brodin, political officer at the Swedish consulate in Jerusalem, said Bildt has put off
his visit in the hope Mideast peacemaking would progress during the UN General Assembly later this month.
“It has been delayed until after the General Assembly in New York, when there might be more substance in the process,” Brodin said.
Israel and the Palestinians have indicated that Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could hold a first meeting during the UN gathering.
But in Stockholm, Bildt spokeswoman Irena Busic denied the foreign minister had cancelled a trip to Israel, saying a date had never been set. Now was not a good time for such a trip, she said, citing logistical reasons and the “situation in the peace process.” Both Swedish officials denied the article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet had anything to do with Bildt’s travel plans.
Netanyahu demanded that Sweden denounce the article, headlined, “Our sons are plundered for their organs.” But
the Swedish government rebuffed Israeli calls
for an official condemnation, citing freedom
of the press.