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Isaac Bachman, Israel's Ambassador to Sweden

Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, said that he was very happy to receive a request for an interview from Swedish public radio Sveriges. The interview to discuss anti-Semitism in Europe took place on Tuesday, Feb. 17. The interview threatened to cause a national furor until this diplomat deftly turned a rotten lemon into delicious lemonade.

“It is not very common for the media to ask official representatives of Israel, people who can actually speak on behalf of the state,” Ambassador Bachman told The Jewish Press during a phone interview Wednesday evening, Feb. 18.

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“I went to the studio, knowing that the topics we would be discussing included the recent terrorist attacks in which Jews were targeted and killed in Paris and Copenhagen, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for Jews to make Aliyah,” he said.

Helena Groll, the Swedish journalist, started the interview by asking Bachman what he thought about Netanyahu’s call for Jews to leave Europe.

“I explained that Aliyah was not part of my work here, neither before such tragedies as took place in Paris and Copenhagen, or after. My job is not to convince the Jewish population to move to Israel,” Bachman told The Jewish Press, “I said people know that Aliyah is an option that is valid, one that exists and is open to them at any time.”

The next question from Groll was far more problematic.

The Swedish journalist asked the Israeli Ambassador: “Do the Jews themselves have any responsibility in the growing anti-Semitism that we see now?”

“My response?” Bachman said, “I told her ‘I reject this question completely.'”

“But she did not grab this chance to move on,” Bachman said. “She failed to grab this opportunity to retreat.”

Indeed, Groll kept shooting, “why?” when Bachman responded that “there is no place for such a question to be asked.”

As Groll began talking over Bachman, asking him to “tell me then, explore with me why is that a question of…” Bachman finally silenced her, by putting the situation in terms that she would be better able to understand.

He said, his voice becoming firmer and louder until Groll finally stopped talking: “To ask the question of whether a woman contributes to being raped is irrelevant altogether. I don’t think there is a provocation that the Jews are doing. They just exist.”

Listen to the radio interview, then keep reading:

The Ambassador said that after his portion of the interview, he went out quietly, and the interview continued with others participating.

It was not until later, when people in Sweden heard the interview, that a huge uproar ensued.

“I don’t think the journalist really had any idea that what she was asking was problematic,” Bachman told The Jewish Press, “her question was reflective of a particular view that is, unfortunately, widespread.”

Bachman said that what he sees in Europe is a melding of the old-style European anti-Semitism, which never really completely sank below the surface, with a new, less traditional and more political hatred of Israel.

The ambassador to Sweden told The Jewish Press that Helena Groll called him this morning and apologized. In response to our question, he said he truly believed that she is now authentically, genuinely more aware of the situation and conscious of the dangers behind the kind of question she asked him.

Bachman also said that he was at the Swedish Parliament yesterday. Not only were people talking about the interview, Bachman said, but many came up to him and apologized on behalf of the Swedish people.

Hanif Bali, a Swedish parliamentarian and member of the Swedish-Israeli Friendship coalition in parliament posted about the interview on his Facebook page.

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com