Last month, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wahlstrom postponed her visit to Israel after foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and other Israeli officials refused to meet her in response to the new Social Democrat Swedish government’s initiative to recognize a Palestinian state.
Sweden’s action and Israel’s reaction should be viewed against the background of decades of extreme anti-Israeli hatemongering by Swedish Social Democrats.
Olof Palme, the Social Democrat prime minister murdered in 1986, was a pioneer of anti-Israel incitement, accusing Israel of Nazi practices. In 1984, Swedish deputy foreign minister Pierre Schori praised Yasir Arafat and his “flexible policy.” In an article, Schori claimed that PLO terrorist acts were “meaningless” while Israel’s retaliatory measures were “despicable acts of terrorism.”
The 21st century actually started off on a positive note for the Jews of Sweden. In January 2000 a major conference on Holocaust education was held in Stockholm. The Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust had been initiated by Göran Persson, then the Social Democrat prime minister. Political leaders from nearly fifty countries participated.
(Representatives of many countries now meet regularly to discuss Holocaust education, research, and remembrance under the aegis of an intergovernmental organization, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.)
Yet Zvi Mazel, Israel’s ambassador to Stockholm from 2002 to 2004, said, “Despite Persson’s personal attitude, he has to carry part of the blame for his party’s discriminatory stance toward Israel. For decades, the Social Democrats helped create the country’s anti-Israeli atmosphere. He also has to take responsibility for the behavior of the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA), which blames Israel for all the many wrongs in Palestinian society.”
Mazel added, “Another leading socialist, the late 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.” (Lindh was killed in 2003 by a deranged Swede of Serbian origin.)
Lindh’s successor as foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, visited Yad Vashem in June 2004 to honor murdered Jews only to turn around and sharply criticize Israel during a meeting at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Freivalds remained silent on the extensive anti-Semitism in Sweden, much of which is of Muslim origin. This phenomenon of paying honor to dead Jews while criticizing Israel is common in Europe.
Freivalds’s behavior was subsequently exposed by four former chairmen of the Swedish Jewish community who wrote about the rampant racism and anti-Semitism in the country.
They sent a letter to the editor of the Israeli daily Haaretz in which they summarized contemporary Swedish anti-Semitism. The letter first praised Sweden for having received Jews fleeing the Holocaust during World War II and Prime Minister Göran Persson for initiating the Living History Project.
The four then went on to say: “The number of verbal and physical attacks against Jews has increased in Sweden. Youngsters in schools give evidence of how they hide the fact of being Jews, as they are attacked both verbally and physically. Teachers testify that students refuse to participate in classes when Judaism is studied. Survivors report feelings of fear. The police stand passively by when extremists attack pro-Israel and anti-racist manifestations.”
They added: “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. The Swedish Church has just recently initiated a boycott campaign [against Israel], a reminder of the commercial boycott of Jews in various societies in the past.”
There were large anti-Israeli demonstrations in Sweden during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Prominent Social Democrats – the party was in the opposition at the time – took part in demonstrations against Israel. Mona Sahlin, then the party’s leader, participated in a rally in Stockholm where Hizbullah 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.