Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet's August 2009 story (translated into English in full here) accusing the IDF of harvesting Palestinian organs caused an uproar. Donald Bostrom, the author of the offensive piece, duly demonstrated his utter lack of any basic journalistic standards when he said: "But whether it's true or not - I have no idea, I have no clue." On top of this, the story was further undermined as one of the Palestinian families interviewed said they never told any reporter that their son was missing organs.
With the credibility of the story in tatters one might have expected the outrageous accusations to have a limited shelf life or to disappear altogether. However, the Swedish blood libel is a textbook case study of how what starts as an article published in a language read by few from a country of limited international influence can turn into a poison that spreads much wider.
As Ha'aretz reports:
Stories appearing on several Ukrainian Web sites claim Israel has brought around some 25,000 Ukrainian children into the country over the past two years in order to harvest their organs. ...
Vyacheslav Gudin told the estimated 300 attendees of the Kiev conference a detailed story about a Ukrainian man's fruitless search for 15 children who had been adopted in Israel. The children, Gudin said, had clearly been taken by Israeli medical centers, where they were used for "spare parts." Gudin said it was essential that all Ukrainians be made aware of the genocide Israel was perpetrating. ...
Many Ukrainian Web sites covered the speeches without putting them into context. In response to a request by the country's Jewish community Ukraine's police force is investigating ZUBR, one of the Web sites that reported the speeches.
Wild conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism are a stock-in-trade of much of the Arab press. So it's not surprising that Palestinian Media Watch documents:
The Palestinian Authority libel that Israel deliberately harvests organs from dead Palestinians has caught on in the Arab world. Last month Egyptian authorities temporarily denied Israeli doctors entry into Egypt to participate in a medical conference. The head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate explained that this was because they "participated in torture" of Palestinians and because they "are also guilty of stealing the organs of Palestinian prisoners."
The following are the remarks by the head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate as reported in the PA daily, Al-Ayyam:
"The head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, Dr. Hamdi Al-Sayed, said yesterday that the decisions of the [Egyptian] medical associations were based on a rejection of relations with Israeli doctors, since they took part in grave abuses against the Palestinian people. He stated, in press releases in Cairo, that the Egyptian Medical Syndicate views any type of normalization with the Israeli occupation as a crime.
In response to the Israeli doctors' protest over Egyptian authorities not issuing them permits to enter Egypt for a medical conference, he said: 'We have no regard or respect for the Israeli doctors because the medical community has condemned them due to their participation in the torture of Palestinian prisoners.' He added: 'The Israeli Medical Association has acknowledged having participated in torture, noting that it had done so with the aim of protecting Israeli citizens.' He stated that the Israeli doctors are also guilty of stealing the organs of Palestinian prisoners, and that 'such people will not be permitted to take part in our medical activities." [Al-Ayyam, Nov. 27, 2009]
PMW documents many more examples of the Palestinian organ theft libel here.
Over the years, HonestReporting has confronted a number of false or exaggerated libels perpetrated against Israel. Some of the worst can be viewed on our interactive Big Lies presentation. Perhaps we cannot prevent the spread of such poison through the Internet and beyond. But it is still incumbent upon us to act as a bulwark and to ensure that the truth and an antidote to the poison appears online to counter the lies.
Such falsehoods take on a life of their own on Internet message boards. Some media outlets save their comments for perpetuity. Sometimes, a comment or post on a message board may even become a valid source through a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.
A look at one example of this may be an indicator of the long-term consequences of the Swedish blood libel.
In a November 2008 story on the confirmation of uranium traces at a Syrian site bombed by Israel in September 2007, the discussion on CNN's message board invariably turned to accusations that Israel was responsible for the uranium.
One commenter posts from an article by Robert Fisk in The Independent from October 2006 that claimed that Israel had used uranium bombs during the 2006 Lebanon conflict. He then asks: "Israel used it [uranium] in Lebanon why should any one be surprised that Israel used it in Syria too."
Likewise, a message board at The Scotsman on the same story included identical quotes from Fisk's libel:
However, the original story by Fisk was thoroughly debunked by HonestReporting after a United Nations agency found the uranium charges to be false. The Independent refused to issue a correction or apology and so this libel is regurgitated on forums such as CNN's with no way to disprove it other than HonestReporting's own rebuttals.
We fear that the Swedish blood libel will be a similar story.