Abraham Cooper and Manfred Gerstenfeld
Each year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center publishes a list of the main anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel incidents. In 2016 Swedish Social Democrat foreign minister Margot Wallstrom was #8. In view of the recurrent Palestinian terror attacks she could have been expected to ask for an investigation of who was behind the long record of Palestinian incitement which led to murders of Israeli civilians. Instead she wanted an investigation into what she dared to call “extrajudicial killings” by the Israeli police of those succeeding or planning murder.
Israeli Minister of Infrastructure, Yuval Steinitz, noted that Wallstrom singled out Israel for investigation but avoided calling out other nations - including the U.S., Russia and France – all of whom also kill terrorists. Applying such double standards against Israel is an act of anti-Semitism, according to its definition by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Its adoption had required the approval of 31 democratic countries among which was Sweden.
Minister Steinitz also pointed out that Sweden has produced more Islamic State volunteers than any other European country. Relations between Israel and Sweden deteriorated greatly in 2015 after Wallstrom cited the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a major reason for growing Islamist radicalism. A year earlier, shortly after becoming Sweden’s foreign minister, Wallstrom recognized ‘Palestine’ as a state. She did this despite the fact that the largest Palestinian party by far, Hamas, promotes genocide of Jews in its Charter.
A spokesperson for the Swedish foreign minister reacted saying that “To superficially and casually, as this list does, accuse political leaders of anti-Semitism risks undermining the important fight against anti-Semitism. Sweden's government is active in the fight against anti-Semitism and is for sustainable peace and a two-state solution.”
We consider this reaction an invitation to provide additional data on the lengthy record of anti-Israel hatred and anti-Semitism by leading Swedish Social Democrats. However, it is important to note an historic and positive Swedish action. In 2000, then Social Democrat Prime Minister Göran Persson called a major international conference on Holocaust education. Out of this forum the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) came forth, the very body which developed the definition according to which Minister Wallstrom commits anti-Semitic acts, by her singling out of Israel.
Nevertheless, before and after Persson, Swedish Social Democrats have been major inciters against Jews and Israel. Sweden’s best known post-war Prime Minister, Social Democrat Olof Palme, accused Israel of Nazi practices. This was yet another example of an extreme anti-Semitic slur according to the IHRA definition. In 1984, Swedish Social Democrat Deputy Foreign Minister Pierre Schori visited Israel. He praised Arafat and his “flexible policy.” In an article, he claimed that “the terrorist acts of the PLO were ‘meaningless,’ while Israel’s retaliatory acts were ‘despicable acts of terrorism.’” These remarks were to some extent precursors of Minister Wallstrom’s more recent statements.
Former Israeli ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel has been quoted as saying that the late Social Democrat Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, “usually made the most vicious attacks on Israel. Her hatred of Israel can only be described as almost pathological. Under her leadership, Sweden published the greatest number of one-sided condemnations of Israel of any EU country.”
There were large anti-Israel demonstrations in Sweden during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Prominent members of the Social Democrats – at the time in opposition -- took part in hate demonstrations against Israel. Mona Sahlin, then the party’s leader, participated in a rally in Stockholm where Hezbollah and Hamas flags were flown and an Israeli flag was burned. Jan Eliasson, the former foreign minister, and Wanja Lundby Wedin, chair of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, also took part in that event.
In Norrköping, another senior Social Democrat, Lars Stjernkvist, spoke at a demonstration with a Hezbollah flag and swastikas in the background. A blogger captured this with his camera. When it became news, the local Social Democrat newspaper Folkbladet criticized the blogger for making an issue out of it. In Malmö, another Social Democrat parliamentarian, Luciano Astudillo, spoke as someone next to him held up a picture of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, is often mentioned as the capital of European anti-Semitism. An on the spot investigation by Simon Wiesenthal Center executives led to the SWC issuing a travel advisory in 2010! Hannah Rosenthal, the then U.S. government’s Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism, visited the town in 2012, speaking out about anti-Semitic statements made by then Social Democrat Mayor Ilmar Reepalu. Rosenthal also remarked that under this mayor, Malmö had become a “prime example” of “new anti-Semitism,” as anti-Israel sentiment serves as a guise for Jew-hatred. A record number of complaints about hate crimes in the city from 2010 through 2011 did not lead to any convictions. With Swedish authorities doing virtually nothing, the SWC’s advisory remains in place in 2017!
In view of all the above it is not surprising that a 2013 study by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 51% of Swedish Jews considered hostility to Jews in the streets and public spaces to be a ‘fairly large’ or ‘very large problem.’ In 2004, four former chairmen of the Swedish Jewish community wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz: “Over the last decades, Sweden has become a center of racist and anti-Semitic White Power music, and several anti-Semitic groups have established Swedish websites spreading anti-Semitic propaganda.”
Our hope is that this brief exposé will awaken an honest appraisal among Swedes about the embedded anti-Israel biases that continue to manifest at the highest levels of their society.
Co-author Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is an Austrian-born author and former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He founded and directed the Center's Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program.