THE HAGUE – The organizers of an art show in Sweden apologized on Sunday
for including an image depicting rifle-wielding rats eating up parts of
the West Bank.
The state-funded association behind the show removed the poster after complaints by organizations combating anti-Semitism.
poster was part of a Christian art exhibition organized by
Studieförbundet Bilda, a nongovernmental educational association partly
funded by the Swedish government.
The image, drawn by two Swedish
pastors who visited the West Bank in 2011, was not yet displayed in the
exhibition but was published online.
It was removed from the Internet following complaints by Jewish individuals and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
use of animalization in caricatures was a favorite propaganda tactic of
Nazis, later used by Soviet and Arab cartoonists to dehumanize Jews,”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Jerusalem Post
"While we are satisfied that this drawing has been withdrawn, it is obviously far preferable that this anti-Semitic view of Jews would never have even been imagined, let alone depicted," Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, told the Post. "That it was drawn by Christian pastors just adds another layer of historical religious anti-Semitism which we hoped the European continent would not witness again. The government of Sweden and leading intellectual, educational and religious officials should express zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism."
Magnus Stenberg, a spokesman for Studieförbundet Bilda, said the exhibition had been organized by a local branch of the group.
“The organizers should have consulted the management ahead of publication,” he told the Post
has received the equivalent of just over 11.2 million euros from the
Swedish National Council of Adult Education, Stenberg said.
soon as we realized how one of the pictures could be understood among
our Jewish friends we asked the local branch to remove it,” Stenberg
said. The original intent, he added, was “to show how all people are
victims in the conflict,” but “it is very difficult to say what the rats
symbolize. You can’t tell if the rats are Israelis or Palestinian
leaders. The important thing is we are unhappy about the image and we
took it off.”
Stenberg said there was a need for more education
on what are acceptable and unacceptable statements about Israel to
prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents.
“It is ironic that an
organization that deals with education makes such mistakes,” he said.
“We are very sorry for it and the lesson is that some symbols are out of
Earlier this year, Dr. Moshe Kantor said Sweden had become “a center for
anti-Semitism” and that the government was ignoring the problem.
to Dr. Mikael Tossaveinen, head of the Scandinavian desk at Tel Aviv
University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the research of anti-Semitism,
the phenomenon is not unusually prevalent in Swedish society.
shows that some 5 percent of the population can be considered
anti-Semitic, with another 20 percent harboring ambivalent attitudes.
Swedes know next to nothing about anti-Semitism, and so it doesn’t
surprise me that they don’t see the connection between the imagery and
Nazi propaganda,” Tossaveinen said. “This becomes extra problematic when
they come across anti-Israeli propaganda made in bad faith by people
who are anti-Semites.”
He added that Swedes “don’t understand the
racist message” and thus will spread the anti-Semitic art because they
“Then they will be surprised when someone calls
attention to the anti-Semitism and interpret that as silencing their
criticism of Israel,” Tossaveinen said. “It’s quite tiresome and it
happens remarkably often in Sweden.”