The Ikea home products retailer and Volvo Cars are among the companies being targeted for a boycott by Israelis angry over a Swedish newspaper article that alleged IDF soldiers harvested organs from slain Palestinians.
More than 10,000 Israelis have signed an online petition in the past two days that was set up after the Swedish government declined a request by Israel to officially condemn the article, published by the Aftonbladet daily on August 17.
The boycott threat puts further strain on relations between the two nations, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday the article was a “blood libel” and that he expected the Swedish government to condemn it.
“I have as little right as any other cabinet minister to act against a publishing decision, no matter what I may think of what has been published,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his Web site on Saturday.
“What worries and grieves me the most is some of the reactions – not least in other countries – that this decision has led to,” he said, referring to the decision to publish the article.
The boycott petition was set up Moran Hajbi, an Israeli army reservist who told the Ynet news Web site, “I am simply a citizen who cares, and cannot stand idly by in light of the publication of the Swedish blood libel.”
The article, by journalist Donald Bostrom, alleged Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian men and removed their organs in 1992. Bostrom said in Aftonbladet that he doesn’t have any evidence of the allegations, only that he can prove that Palestinians he has interviewed made such claims.
Ikea has one store in Israel, just east of Netanya, franchised to an investors’ group headed by New York-based businessman Matthew Bronfman that is in the process of setting up a second outlet.
Ikea Israel CEO Shlomi Gabai spoke out against the proposed boycott on Army Radio on Monday, saying, “As an Israeli, I am also mad when other countries boycott Israeli manufactured goods; therefore I resent the attempt to tie Ikea to the Swedish article in any way. I bluntly reject the attempt to link business to politics. Ikea is a commercial entity and will continue to be such. The store in Israel has loyally served the Israeli public for years. We support 500 employees and their families, and once the store in Rishon Lezion is opened we’ll support 1,000 and I’m proud of it.”
Business at the store hasn’t suffered because of the controversy. Gabai reported near record sales on Sunday, and on Monday morning the store was full.
“There’s no need to involve politics in everything,” said one customer upon leaving the store with a trunk full of merchandise. “We spent nearly NIS 4,000 on furniture for our new apartment and I don’t see it as a political statement.”
Volvo Cars, owned by Ford Motor Co., sells about 1,100 automobiles in Israel every year, company spokeswoman Maria Bohlin said by telephone from Sweden. “We haven’t noticed any difference yet, but we’ll await the situation and see how it develops.”
Swedish exports to Israel increased by 39 percent between 2007 and 2008 and amounted to $483 million last year, according to information on the Swedish Embassy’s Web site.
“This boycott initiative is needless and stupid,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a telephone interview. Palmor added that if the Swedish government doesn’t condemn the article, Israel will make it a central topic of discussions with Bildt on his scheduled visit to Jerusalem next week.
Meanwhile on Monday evening, several demonstrators stood outside the embassy in Tel Aviv to protest the Swedish government’s failure to denounce the Aftonbladet article.
The demonstrators, representatives of Zionist social movements Im Tirtzu and Hatikva, wore T-shirts with the images of Theodor Herzl and Joseph Trumpeldor; held Israeli flags and banners reading “Anti-Semitism under the cover of free speech” and posed for the press photographers, who nearly outnumbered them.
The protesters also set up a stall on which they placed a pot full of red paint into which they dipped matzot. A sign on the stall read, “Palestinian organs for sale here.” The stall was a macabre reference to medieval blood libels about Jews killing Christian children so they can use their blood to make matza.
One demonstrator lowered the Swedish flag from the mast in front of the building.
“We are here in front of the Swedish Embassy to protest against the new blood libel against the Jews, in its 2009 version,” Im Tirtzu spokesman Amit Barak said. “This ugly accusation against the IDF is nothing but a new take on old and familiar anti-Semitism. We expect the Swedish foreign minister and the Swedish government to take a firm stand against it and expose it for what it is instead of hiding behind the excuse of free speech.”
Barak said his group was pleased by the determination of the Israeli government in face of a developing diplomatic crisis with Sweden.
“Finally the Foreign Ministry is standing up for Israel and the IDF,” he said. “If I was in charge, I’d call the Israeli ambassador back from Sweden. Let him rest here for a while.”
Im Tirtzu is a campus-based organization whose main objective is to “return Zionist values to the public debate.”
“I see a direct line between the lies that where published in the Swedish newspaper and the types of cowardly and baseless accusations made by Israeli organizations like Shovrim Shtika,” said Barak, referring to a organization of reserve soldiers who have accused the IDF of committing war crimes in Gaza.
“There is no doubt that if there are organizations here in Israel that call Israeli soldiers murderers, it provides fertile soil for similar accusations by foreign organizations.”
The lone public official to arrive on the scene was Likud MK Carmel Shama. He arrived after the protest was already under way did not appear to have been recognized by the protesters.
“I fully support what these young people are doing,” said Shama. “It’s time for the Swedish government to stop using freedom of the press as an excuse and present a clear condemnation of the article. We don’t expect an apology, but a plain condemnation is in order.”
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