Swedish story 63.
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Having lived through a revolution in Romania and following five years in Egypt, I rejoiced when my husband Zvi was named ambassador to Sweden.
Indeed, I looked forward to what was to be our last posting in a friendly Western country. This time we would not be isolated, I thought; there would be glittering functions, invitations to Royal events, and we would bask in a friendly atmosphere.
Ah, well. It did not quite happen that way. This was the time of the second Intifada and nobody - nobody - loved us.
Thus, for instance, when a massive demonstration was held against the United States before its 2003 invasion of Iraq, people marched by the tens of thousands under our window on their way to the US Embassy. Among the many banners prominently displayed, one was particularly striking: "Bomb Tel Aviv, not Baghdad," it said in bold black letters.
A FEW WEEKS later, the University of Stockholm Student Union decided to hold a "Palestine Day" which was to end with a debate to which the Israeli ambassador was invited.
Zvi gave a nice diplomatic speech about the need for compromise and reconciliation which was met with silence. Then the Palestinian representative took the floor and launched into a diatribe about the savage Israeli soldiers: "When they spy a pregnant Palestinian woman these beasts start betting on whether it's a boy or a girl and then CUT OPEN THE WOMAN to know who won. Furthermore", he went on, "no young Palestinian woman is safe from them. If she is pretty, they will strip her naked and force her to walk through the streets of Jerusalem."
I can still remember the shock I felt. We were after all in the auditorium of a university in a modern Western country, not in Ramallah or in Teheran.
The audience duly hissed and booed the hated Israelis. And why not? We were daily pilloried in the press. But it got worse. Soon enough some of this hatred turned to the Jewish community. In October 2003, one Jan Samuelsson, a so-called expert on religion and religious history published an article in one of the leading dailies - Dagens Nyheter, a morning paper with a circulation that equals that of Aftonbladet - explaining that it was legitimate to hate Jews as long as Israel occupied Arab territories.
Here are some choice quotations out of that article: "Muslim hatred of Jews is justified", "hatred of Jews is primarily a modern phenomenon sparked by the violations that the State of Israel commits against Arabs in the Middle East." Incidentally, the Israeli Embassy protested, but guess what? The sanctity of the freedom of the press prevailed and nothing was done.
Swedish Jews were quick to understand the message. Hillelskolan, the Jewish school, received police protection and its pupils were advised to take off their head coverings and Stars of David when they left the premises. Their parents got the same advice. To this day, religious envoys from Israel are told to wear a hat, not a kippa.
TO BE SURE, some of this can be attributed to the sizable Muslim community living in Sweden today - some 500,000 out of a total of nine million. In Stockholm, elderly Jews, most of them Holocaust survivors, were invited every Friday to an "Oneg Shabat" in the community building. I had participated a few times and went there in early March 2004 to say goodbye. A very old man with a strong Polish accent took a newspaper from his pocket. "It says there," he told me, "that in the great mosque of Stockholm they give out leaflets and cassettes calling to get rid of the Jews, sons of pigs and monkeys. It also says that a government spokesman declared there was no ground for intervention. What do you say about that?"
There was not much I could say.
Once again the embassy protested; once again the hallowed mantle of the sanctity of freedom of speech had been thrown over what can only be described as blatant anti-Semitism. It was left to another elderly woman to put in words the fear they all felt: "You may be too young to remember, but this is how it started in Germany." I hastened to point out that the situation was completely different inasmuch as the Swedish government would protect its citizens and was indeed committed to fighting anti-Semitism. Hadn't the then Prime Minister Goran Persson convened not one, but three international seminars on the issue of the Holocaust?
I am not sure they believed me. A scant month before, that same Swedish government had paid for the now-infamous exhibit glorifying the Palestinian woman who had blown herself up among the lunch crowd of a busy Haifa restaurant in October 2003, killing 21 people. This "work of art" showing a photo of her made-up, smiling up face floating on a sea of red water made to look like blood had been chosen for the official opening ceremony of the new international seminar, dedicated to the worthy cause of "preventing genocide."
And when the Israeli ambassador, having vainly protested, took matters in his own hands and hurled the spotlights illuminating that monstrosity into the water, all three leading newspapers protested this intolerable attack on the freedom of art and artistic expression.
The following day the exhibit was restored in all its glory.
When a year later Muslims protested against a painting in a Gothenburg museum they found insulting, they did it with far greater efficiency. An anonymous letter spelled what would happen to the wife and the children of the curator if the painting was not removed forthwith.
This was promptly done.
The writer is the wife of former ambassador Zvi Mazel. She is the author of Ambassador's Wife published in 2002, a personal account of the eight years she spent in Cairo with her husband.