BERLIN – The head of Amnesty International’s Finnish branch, Frank Johansson, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he stands by his statement that Israel is a “scum state.”
Writing in his blog, which appears on the Web site of Finland’s third largest newspaper Iltalehti, Johansson wrote on Monday that “A friend of mine who works in Israel was visiting [and] while piling wood in the shed, we got to [talking about] his favourite topic. [After] several years of residence in the Holy Land, he has come to the conclusion that ‘Israel is a scum state.’ Based on my own visit[s], which occurred during the 1970s and for the last time in the 1990s, I agree.”
An English translation of Johansson’s blog first appeared Tuesday on the Web site Tundra Tabloids, a pro-Israel blog that monitors anti-Israeli sentiments in the Finnish media and blogosphere.
Speaking from Finland, Kenneth Sikorski, who runs the Web site and picked up Johansson’s remarks, told The Jerusalem Post that Johansson’s comments are “absolutely atrocious and indicative of a problem of systematic anti-Semitism.”
Asked why he termed Israel a “scum state,” Johansson told the Post in a telephone interview that it was because Israel has “repeatedly flouted international law,” and due to his “personal experiences inside and outside of Israel with meeting Israelis.”
Johansson said that his remarks were not anti-Semitic. “I actually praise Breaking the Silence,” he said, referring to an Israeli organization claiming to collect and share testimonies of former IDF soldiers over human rights violations they allegedly witnessed, while rarely providing names of troops, dates and locations of these incidents.
Asked whether there are other countries aside from Israel that, according to him, meet the definition of a “scum state,” Johansson did not specify any, but noted that there are “Russian officials” who meet the criteria.
The Amnesty International official said: “I have been on record on Finnish TV as saying George Bush is the biggest executioner in the Western Hemisphere, [I] use strong language... I am writing those [blogs] in my capacity as a private person, not as an Amnesty official.”
However, Iltalehti’s Web site clearly provides readers with his title as “director of the Finnish branch of Amnesty International,” which appears above his blog.
NGO Monitor chief Gerald Steinberg condemned Johansson’s remarks in the context of his organization as a whole. The head of the watchdog organization, which tracks anti-Israel activity among NGOs, told the Post in an e-mail on Tuesday that “Amnesty International has promoted an intense anti-Israel ideology, resulting in statements like these. Such one-sided ideological campaigns, with false allegations of war crimes, are entirely inconsistent with Amnesty’s claim to support ethical principles and universal human rights.
“Amnesty International’s new secretary general, Salil Shetty, must immediately condemn this immoral statement by the head of the Finnish chapter, freeze links to the chapter until he resigns, and take measures to end Amnesty’s central role in demonizing Israel,” he added.
Also Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, Susanna Flood, told the Post in a telephone interview that “Amnesty would never use an expression like this toward the State of Israel, or any other state.”
Flood said that Johansson used the phrase “creep state” to describe Israel, rather than “scum,” as the initial English translation of the Finnish word found. Native Finnish speakers from Tundra Tabloids said the Finnish term used by Johansson to denigrate Israel is a “highly derogatory term,” and is frequently translated as “scum,” “scum bag” or “douche bag.”
Asked if AI plans to discipline or sack Johansson, Flood said she would have to check on his employment status, but noted that the organization generally does not comment on human resource matters.
Pressed if he is singling out Israel for disparate treatment – a manifestation of modern anti-Semitism according to some critics – Flood said that one “has to look at the full context of his articles.”
She added that Johansson assured her that he is not using his title to write the anti-Israeli blogs. But, when shown that his title was indeed being used in his blog, she conceded to this fact.
The deputy head of Mission for the Embassy of Finland in Israel, Anu Pulkkinen, told the Post on Tuesday that Johansson “is responsible for his own comments, and we are not commenting on blog writings of individual Finnish citizens.
Finland has traditionally good bilateral relations with Israel in
various fields. This means, among other things, that there are good
direct contacts and channels of discussion between the two countries to
discuss all kinds of issues, she said, adding, “There is a wide freedom
of press in Israel and the government respects that. The same goes for
Finland, and that’s why it’s probably easy to understand that a
representative of the government does not comment on individual blog
“Finland strongly condemns anti-Semitism. One indication of that is,
among others, our recent decision to join the Task Force for
International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and
Research,” she said.