The relationship between Israel and Sweden has been a tense one in recent years, and even hostile during the stint of former Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. In September, 2019, Wallstrom resigned her post. Replacing Wallstrom was Ann Linde, and this week, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that he spoke on the phone with his Swedish counterpart. In the first such conversation in seven years, Linde wished Lapid and Israel a Shana Tova.
Lapid expressed satisfaction with the conversation he had with Linde. He said, “I appreciate her statement regarding Sweden’s strong and solid commitment to the security of Israel, and her recognition in the course of the conversation of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.” Linde reciprocated by emphasizing the “importance of our bilateral relations.”
Sweden and Ireland, both European Union (EU) member states, have been the most hostile toward the Jewish state within the EU. In 2014, Sweden, led by the recently appointed Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, was the first EU member state to extend recognition to the non-existent Palestinian state. While the Swedish action didn’t create an avalanche against Israel, it however, prompted the parliaments of other EU member states, such as Ireland, Britain (before Brexit), France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, to adopt resolutions supporting Palestinian statehood.
During the five years Wallstrom served as Sweden’s Foreign Minister, relations with Israel deteriorated to an unprecedented low. The Social-Democratic government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofvan, in which Wallstrom served as Foreign Minister, witnessed a huge influx of Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants (from Syria and Iraq in particular), and high crimes that accompanied their arrival. Sweden received the less than charitable title of the “rape capital of Europe.”
In 2015, Wallstrom claimed to the Swedish parliament that Israel was conducting extrajudicial executions of Palestinian stabbers. She subsequently called for an investigation to determine if Israel was guilty of these crimes. The Israeli foreign ministry, in response, called her statements “irresponsible and delusional,” adding that Wallstrom is “giving support to terror and thus encouraging violence.” I-24 TV reported that when asked by a Swedish parliamentarian why she refused to condemn Palestinian acts of violence against Israelis, Wallstrom replied that while she didn’t condone terrorism, and that Israel did have the right to self-defense, Israeli response doesn’t need to be extrajudicial executions or disproportional force…
The Israeli foreign ministry pointed out in a statement that Israeli citizens and security forces have the right to defend themselves against terrorists, and that Israel’s legal system guarantees a fair judicial process for everyone. “In Israel, every criminal is brought to court, including terrorists.”
Wallstrom’s anti-Israel outbursts didn’t stop with her statement on the libelous “extrajudicial executions.” Following the November 13, 2015 Islamic State terror attack in Paris, in which 130 people were murdered, Wallstrom asserted on Swedish television that the attacks were rooted in the frustration of Muslims in the Middle East, including the Palestinians.
Wallstrom may not be an outright anti-Semite, but, when it comes to the Jewish state, Swedish leaders have used Israel as their “convenient boogeyman,” to explain the antisemitic violence in Sweden, perpetrated mostly by Arab Muslim immigrants who flooded the country in 2015, as Syrian, Iraqi, and other Middle East “refugees.”
Swedish Jews are now living in constant fear of violence. Even earlier, in 2009, on a visit to Sweden, this reporter had to call the Chabad synagogue in Stockholm in advance of arrival. At the Chabad Stockholm address, I found the structure boarded up with no sign that inside there was a synagogue, a sacred place of worship. It was only after repeated knocks on the door that someone let me in. One can only imagine how dire the situation for Jews is in Sweden these days when, in the relatively “safe” capital of Stockholm, Jewish worshippers must hide or have police protection. In the southern Swedish city of Malmo, the situation is far worse. The Muslim population there, along with their leftist Swedish supporters, are harassing Jews with impunity. The Swedish government does not want to, or is unable to restrain the Muslim harassers for fear of being accused of Islamophobia…
Antisemitism in Sweden has prompted many young Jews to leave the country. Speaking to a 27-year-old former officer in the Swedish army, I was told that, “Sweden is no longer safe for Jews.” He added, “I am considering moving to Israel or America.”
While in Sweden, the country’s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, published a story that accused Israel of harvesting Palestinian organs, an unabashed modern blood libel. The same newspaper ridiculed the notion that Jews are leaving Sweden because of antisemitism, dismissing it as “lying” and “hysteria.” Swedish state TV attributed former President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as the result of the influence of the “Jewish lobby.”
In today’s Sweden, radical Islam has free rein. The country has become one of Europe’s top recruiting grounds for various Islamist terror organizations. In April, 2017, five people were killed in an Islamic terror attack in downtown Stockholm. Yet, Swedish taxpayers are funding radical Muslim clerics and their mosques, while these imams continue to freely radicalize young peoples’ minds, and promote hatred and violence toward Jews, Israel, and ordinary Christians. This reporter was hosted by his Swedish-Kurdish Muslim friends, and was shown a high crime Arab-Muslim neighborhood, where Swedish police dare not enter. My Kurdish friends, being productive Swedish citizens, decried the apathy of the Swedish authorities, and the disregard they have toward the taxpayers. The Swedish authorities have in fact, deliberately hidden the extent of Muslim immigrant crimes.
The influx of Muslim immigrants has raised the Muslim population in Sweden to about 10 percent of the total. And, while the right-wing Swedish Democrats are anti-Muslim, and seek to stop Muslim immigration, the leftist Social-Democrats are seeking electoral support from the Muslim community. That may explain to some extent the anti-Israel rhetoric of the party officials. Historically though, Swedish-Israeli relations were not always smooth.
Sweden voted for the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, which provided the legal foundation for the State of Israel. Count Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish diplomat and nephew of then Swedish King Gustaf V, was assassinated by the Lehi underground (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) in September, 1948. Bernadotte appeared to be siding with the interests of the Arabs in Israel’s War of Independence, when he sought to arrange a ceasefire just as Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were pushing the invading Arab armies out of the territories allotted to the Jewish state. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw many young Swedes flock to Israeli Kibbutzim. Tage Erlander, the social-Democrat Prime Minister at the time, coincided with Israel’s Labor-Socialist party, and relations improved measurably. In subsequent years, Swedish governments were critical of Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s (Saddam Hussein’s) Osirak nuclear reactor. In 1982, during the first Lebanon war, Sweden’s Premier Olaf Palme compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews.
In the wake of Lapid’s positive connection with his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde, it seems that Israel and Sweden might be opening a new page in their relationship. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is due to visit Sweden in mid-October, to participate at the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism. The visit will be an opportunity to focus on issues both governments consider vital to their interests.