The recent Swedish proposal to the European Union to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state was a severe hostile act against Israel. The proposal was watered down by other member countries. The attitude of Sweden which, for another few weeks, holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, may tempt Israel to hit back at the country’s government.
For several reasons, however, this strategy would be wrong. The anti-Israel campaign is led by one person, the Swedish Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who is the dominant figure in this government. Rather than targeting the entire government or country, Israel should focus on its major adversary in the current coalition.
Bildt’s hostile record toward Israel can be easily proved. On a Swedish radio program in April he said: “It is possible to make peace without Hamas the same way it is possible to make peace without Netanyahu on the Israeli side.” An Israeli Foreign Ministry official reacted diplomatically: “He clearly does not understand the difference between the leader of an Israeli political party and a group that is engaging in the terror that threatens Europe as much as Israel.”(1)
Bildt’s anti-Israeli sentiment came to the fore again in the Aftonbladet organ affair. In August this anti-Israeli daily published an article which accused Israel of killing Palestinians in order to acquire organs for transplant. Bildt refused to condemn it, saying that there is freedom of the press in Sweden and that the government therefore cannot condemn the press. When, however, a few weeks later, Aftonbladet published an article by a member of the right wing Sweden Democrats party, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt condemned it. Suddenly, when Israel was not concerned, it was permissible to criticize the same paper.
Ilya Meyer, a writer who has held senior positions in the Swedish Jewish community, has a blog which reports regularly – in both English and Swedish – on Sweden’s misbehavior toward Israel. He notes that the Swedish state finances almost the entire $6 million budget of an extreme pro-Palestinian group in the country, Palestinagrupperna. This body has links to various terrorist organizations. In an annual report Palestinagrupperna claimed that Bildt had told them that he agrees with them on every point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(2)
There are many friends of Israel in the four parties currently in the Swedish government – the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Center Party. However, the present coalition is severely trailing the opposition in the most recent polls.(3) New parliamentary elections will take place in September 2010.
The opposition consisting of the Social Democrats, Sweden’s largest party, the Green Party and the Left Party is far more hostile to Israel than the present government, with the main exception of Bildt.
During the Gaza Campaign Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Social Democrats, participated in an anti-Israel rally in Stockholm(4) at which Hizballah and Hamas flags were flown and an Israeli flag was burned.(5) Jan Eliasson, the former foreign minister,(6) and Wanja Lundby Wedin, chair of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation,(7) also took part in that event.
Many senior party members participated in such demonstrations. In Norrköping, an ex-parliamentarian and former party secretary of the Social Democrats, Lars Stjernkvist, spoke with a Hizballah flag and swastikas in the background.(8) In Malmö, the Social Democrat parliamentarian, Luciano Astudillo, spoke as someone next to him held up a picture of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah.(9)
Sahlin’s attitude toward Israel may develop in directions similar to those of Sweden’s best known prime minister, the Social Democrat Olof Palme. He was the first Western-European prime minister to label Israel as a Nazi state.
In the past few years Israel has missed the opportunity to confront the current government on many anti-Israel matters, including its indirect subsidies to anti-Israel hate bodies, mainly leftovers from the Social Democrat government.
This is especially unfortunate since the Swedish Minister of International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, is currently revising the country’s foreign aid policies. She aims to move funding away from corrupt and dictatorial regimes to democracies and to projects that foster economic and political goals that are in line with those of Sweden. Pointing out how Palestinian organizations which receive major Swedish aid are abusing this could have had some actual influence on the country’s foreign aid policy.
If the current coalition, led by the Moderates, remains in power, one can raise these issues anew and try to solve them over a four year period. If the Social Democrats win the elections, ongoing confrontations with Sweden will be almost unavoidable. This is the more so as, for the first time, the Left and Green parties will probably join the government. There are many possibilities for Israeli retaliation against hostile Swedish acts, but it would be counterproductive to disclose them today.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has published fifteen books among which :
Behind the Humanitarian Mask, the Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews. (2008)
(1) Gil Hoffman, “Swedish FM Likens Netanyahu to Hamas,” Jerusalem Post, 10 April 2007.
(2) Ilya Meyer, “The Swedish Foreign Minister’s Crusade against Israel,” 9 December 2009. www.ilyameyer.com.
(3) Opposition poll lead “very worrying”: Reinfeldt, The Local 14 december 2009.
(4) Per Gudmundson, “Mona Sahlin, hakkorsen och Hamasflaggorna,” Gudmundson, 15 January 2009 http://gudmundson.blogspot.com. [Swedish]
(5) “Israelska flaggan brändes,” Dagens Nyheter, 10 January 2009. [Swedish]
(6) Per Gudmundson, “Rödflaggat,” Gudmundson, 13 January 2009, http://gudmundson.blogspot.com. [Swedish]
(7) Per Gudmundson, “Swedish Leading Social Democrats in Rally with Hezbollah Flags,” Gudmundson, 10 January 2009, http://gudmundson.blogspot.com. [Swedish]
(8) Erik Svansbo, “Folkbladet uppmärksammar ‘bloggkupp,’” Svansbo, 14 January 2009, http://blogg.svansbo.se. [Swedish]
(9) Per Gudmundson, “Rödflaggat,” Gudmundson, 13 January 2009, http://gudmundson.blogspot.com. [Swedish]