Why the Israeli Organ-Harvesting Story Is Probably False

A strange story has broken out in Sweden and Israel, with an article in Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper, by a journalist named Donald Boström.

According to The Times, Boström’s article “accuses the Israeli Army of harvesting organs from Palestinians wounded or killed by soldiers.” This claim is linked to the charges of black-market organ trafficking by Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, one of the flock of characters recently arrested in a corruption and money-laundering racket that revolved around New Jersey politicians.

The Israeli government has struck back, claiming that Boström’s article is false, outrageous, and, in the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, a “blood libel,” the sort of malicious rumor that has led to the persecution of Jews for centuries.

The Times article asserts that Boström’s article “was based on accusations Mr. Bostrom heard from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990’s, and which he published in a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001.”

That would certainly give one pause as to the veracity of the charge. 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.

But there is probably a better reason to discount the accusation.

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.”

Roth also points to a response of sorts on Ynet, a website affiliated with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot. It’s by Uria Asor, and is headlined “Special Report: Sweden’s Dirty Secret” :

[T]hose in the know and lox connoisseurs have been claiming that the Swedish gravad lax tastes differently than the Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish variety. ‘The Swedish variety contains some sort of slight sourness,’ says Danish Chef Richard Muller Holstrum. ‘I was never able to detect its source.’

However, Ynet’s special investigative report has revealed, for the first time, what may be the secret ingredient in Sweden’s gravad lax. The horrifying findings indicate that the source is fungus removed from the feet of innocent Norwegian fishermen.

Those who dislike Israel for whatever reason should at least acknowledge that, between parody and poetry, its journalism is pretty interesting.


Name

Apparently even the family of the dead Palestinian, from which organs allegedly were harvested, have expressed their doubts about the organ harvesting taking place.

But I must admit that I do not understand the piece of text from the Israeli newspaper. It sounds like something I would have written as a pre-teen, trying to be funny.

Andreas P

Just a small note on this. Aftonbladet is, in essence, the swedish equivalent of "the sun".

Daniel

Israel has a very diverse discourse, on all the issues.
I classify my political views as libertarian, but I try to follow left wingers online as well.

While this story does get coverage on the blogs, not even the biggest critics in Israel of our military remotely consider this to be a possibility.
It's just so far fetched, that all we do is mock it.

There is no possible way this can be true, and even the most fanatical liberals here don't buy the story.

What it does come out as however, is quite a blood libel.
To many of us, it reminded us of antisemitic propaganda that was wide spread in the past.

The good old stories of "Jews kill christian children and use their blood for traditional Jewish cooking", sound very similar to this one (The Je... oops, Israel, harvest Palestinian organs and sell them in order to stock up on more Jew gold).

David

As much as i agree with Mr Netanyahu that the article is a repetition of centuries-old lies, the strategy the Israeli government has used for this issue is really counterproductive. Before they started demanding a condemnation from the Swedish government we still had the opportunity to discuss the anti-Semite stereotypes used in this, and other, articles in Swedish newspapers. Now that issue is overshadowed by the fact that a friendly democracy is trying to make our leaders violate our constitution.
It is interesting however, that the many of the tactics used by the Israeli government officials are the same used by Arab leaders when the caricatures of Mohammed were published a few years ago. However, I am confident that my government will stand by their defense of the principles of freedom of speech, and as a friend of the state of Israel I do hope their leaders could stop trying to alienate their friends like this.

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Fitty

Come on!!! Aftonbladet is a joke. I know people who write for it (e.g. my best friend's wife). Andreas P compared Aftonbladet to The Sun but a better comparison would be to Weekly World News.

Aftonbladet (and it's twin, Expressen) is not quite The Onion since the absurdity is often a byproduct and not the result of a concerted effort.

However, Israel should be ashamed of itself. Sweden, and the rest of the decent world, has something called "freedom of the press". That Israel expects the Swedish government to react to and apologize for such garbage is absurd.

jtlansing

Free speech aside, this seems really shoddy journalism (I would say "is" but I don't read Swedish, so I know what the Times has reported).

Apart from the practicalities of actually harvesting organs from a battlefield in a timely fashion (while staying within the general analytic framework of Freakonomics), I would have thought the odds of finding viable organs in bodies of Palestinians wounded or killed by Israeli soldiers would be extremely low, given the nature of warfare and the odds that some form of trauma would almost invariably be inflicted on the vital organs.

Pretty repugnant rumor mongering

Stuart Wilder

The allegation that Israel is reacting to the Swedish blood libel in the same manner that Moslems reacted to the Danish cartoons is yet another example of the"one the one and. . . and on the other hand. . . " equivalency many use to demean Israel. Not a single Swede or other European, and not a single European diplomatic or business outpost, is or feels threatened by physical harm by Israelis on account of this episode. The harsh reaction by Israel results from the memory of past charges such as those made by the Swedish newspaper resulting in Jews being killed.

As to the title of this piece, "Probably"? Does anyone at the Times think there is any probability, or even a possibility, that this is true? I suspect not, but once again Heaven forbid that you speak your mind lest you offend someone who thinks Jews are doomed to wander the earth and must be denied the means to live and defend themselves.

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David

I never claimed Israel reacted in the same manner as Moslems, I claimed Israel reacted in the same manner as leaders of Arab countries. If there were Arab countries that threatened Danish and Swedish citizens with violence I apologize, but to my knowledge only private citizens and religious leaders did that.

The fact that Israel is a democracy causes me to hold it in much higher regard than neighboring dictatorships, but also to expect more of their officials. In a free country with freedoms of speech and press, like Israel or Sweden, a government knows that these issues will be resolved better if exposed to public discussions. Now instead, the anti-Semitism in Aftonbladet obscured due to the "diplomatic crisis" between the governments of Israel and Sweden. I can't imagine that benefiting anyone but the anti-Semites.

Remind me, in what case did an article from Aftonbladet result in Jews getting killed? I know that the "newspaper" has a long history of publishing more or less openly anti-Semitic articles but I can't recall an instance where it was directly linked to a murder.

Oh, and this is probably the first time in my life that I've been accused of being anti-Israel. Only on the Internet!

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Clement R Knorr

I have neighbors in Tucson who are visited each couple of years by an old friend from Isreal. The Israeli woman introduced herself to me as a former nurse who is now a "kidney donor agent". It seems she visits several US cities to meet destitute Americans who have been recruited to be sent to Isreal and have one of their their kidneys harvested in exchange for money. It is she who does a cursory physical exam and blood test to determine they are not ill with a disease that might be passed on to the receipient. This business has been going on for years and she tells me that there is no shortage of donors willing to make some money.

Margaret Fouda

These charges, as outrageous as they sound, should be investigated. The comments by Roth about storage on a battlefield are not applicable as many Palestinian deaths took place in incursions by the Israeli army into towns to round up young men throwing stones. These people may have been gravely wounded and died in hospital allowing removal of organs without permission of their families. As was reported below in the Israeli press, the senior pathologist was investigated for removal of organs form an Israeli soldier without his families permission." Israeli themselves uncovered an organ warehouse in Abu Kabir Forensic Institute. Prof. Yehuda Hiss, Israel's senior pathologist was charged in 2002 with "illegal sale of and dealings in organs and body parts, removing organs from deceased persons without consent, and misrepresenting organs in returned bodies. . . placing the cardboard center of toilet paper rolls and metallic rods in their place to fill the voids in the body and hide the theft of the organs." All these crimes were reported by Palestinian families after receiving the mutilated corpses of loved ones.

http://www.allbusiness.com/middle-east/israel/102662-1.html

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Emmanuel

Where are the devenders of freedom of expression and freedom of the press? Are those principles worth defending only when we criticize "Third World dictators and Arab fanatics"? Mr Netanyahu and his government are going too far in asking the Swedish government to apologoze for the writings of one individual in a newspaper people don't really take seriously. What's next? The whole world should self flagelate each time something negative is said about Israel? The story we are commenting on would not have caught anyone's attention if Likoudniks all around the world have taken it for what it is: an absurdity written by an individual with an out of control hyper-emotional personality and a very poor judgement. A dog biting a human is not news. But a human biting the is surely makes news...

Hetty Greene

Foot fungus was a pretty useful ingredient traditionally in wine making as well.

Neil (SM)

Free press does not mean the freedom to print outright lies.

Jim Dandy

Netanyahu didn't get his knee's in too much of a knot when 14,000 men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood in Gaza. Israel will never live that atrocity down in the eyes of the world.
Jim Dandy.

Robot Mistake

Nick Rosen, of Tel Aviv, claims he was paid $20,000 to give his kidney to a Long Island businessman. The video chronicles Rosen's journey from Israel to the Unites States for the transplant.

Brad Gursky recipient

Dont know how to submit stories but here is another case for the Kidey Black market theme.

Daphne

Margaret Fouda suggests that these allegations should be investigated, so let's see ... the Palestinian mentioned in the original article was shot in the CHEST. And then Israeli soldiers harvested his organs for resale. And this, Bostrom suggests, was a routine procedure. So, Margaret, are you suggesting that this is a viable business--- shooting an unwilling donor in the chest, then rushing him into the hospital in order to harvest his organs for resale? Sounds like a pretty unreliable business plan to me.

Stockholm Rob

The only surprise here is that anyone would take anything written in Aftonbladet seriously. It must have come as quite a shock to Mr. Boström, not least, when actually generated a response. The paper is probably one step above The National Inquirer, not saying much.

The story was based, says Mr. Boström, on his having seen the body of a Palestinian with suture marks on it. There was no autopsy that he knew of and no doctor examined the body. His paper added that Mr. Boström had been to the Middle East several times. So, from this wealth of reporting, Mr. Boström wrote a story that Israel is harvesting Palestinian body parts. Donald Boström is no H.L. Menchen and I'm not sure I'd believe the TV listings printed in Aftonbladet.

What's disturbing is that such nonsense got instant traction in Sweden, a country that likes to pat itself on the back for all its good deeds. Even Carl Bildt refused to distance himself from the story.

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Tatiana Covington

As long as:

1. People need new internal organs,
2. People can transplant internal organs,
3. People cannot grow new internal organs from their own tissues,

they will simply have to get them from others. Ipso facto they shall remain extremely scarce and self-evidently extremely valuable (life being impossible without them, or bionic substitutes), unless and until total regeneration in vivo or in vitro arrives.

This is already being worked on at places like Wake Forest. Human bladders have already been lab-grown and implanted as replacements in 7 people. This proves the principle. More than 20 other tissues and organs are being worked on in this manner, by such persons as the Vacanti brothers at MIT and Atala, at Wake Forest.

By 2050 we will likely be able to regrow almost anything. In a sense we already can. Cloning necessarily recaptures the entire organism, all organs included, from one cell or a few.

The problem is learning how to regrow only what one needs. We can't quite do that, just yet.

Come back in 50 years.

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larry birnbaum

It's tiresome to have to rebut lies such as Jim Dandy's, above, claim that "14,000 men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood in Gaza." But necessary.

According to the wikipedia, an upper limit of about 1400 Palestinians were killed during the Gaza war. And of course the claim that these people were "murdered in cold blood" is a highly tendentious one. Most of these people were armed men, although there were certainly many civilian deaths as well. And while this isn't the place to debate whether the war was justified, suffice it to say that rocket attacks by Palestinians in Gaza on Israeli civilians, which Israel gave ample warning couldn't be tolerated indefinitely, have ceased.

Sloper

Fouda @ 10 is correct. There is a well documented history of illegal organ harvesting/sales in Israel that should prompt an investigation of these latest charges, however unlikely that process is about to happen.

NB: Aftonbladet is not like The Sun, it is not a rightwing daily, but a pro-Labor daily with no history of anti-semtism but an often strongly critical stance of Israeli policies v. Gaza, the West Bank & the refugee camps in Lebanon. Equating criticism of Israeli poilicies with anti-semitism is an old Likud tactic.