A view from Sweden: Sullying Raoul Wallenberg’s reputation
Wallenberg's grandnephew Michael Wernstedt’s stance on Israeli policy in the West Bank is troubling,
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Photo: Courtesy
Raoul Wallenberg was the epitome of selflessness, bravery and principle. He
refused to be silent in the face of evil, he refused to kowtow to expediency, he
used his extraordinary organizational skills for humanitarian
His greatest achievement was to rescue thousands of Jewish
victims of Nazi genocide.
But that is just half the picture. The other
half is the very traits that drove him to save those lives: traits that have
totally bypassed his grandnephew Michael Wernstedt.
On a recent trip to
Israel during which he attended a commemorative event at Yad Vashem, the
Holocaust Museum in Israel’s capital, Wernstedt stunned his hosts, abusing his
family’s memory and the solemn occasion to deliver what should be understood in
its proper context: a self-serving attempt to carve out a name for himself on
the back of Swedish hero Wallenberg’s achievements.
Wernstedt said in
Jerusalem: “I must mention human rights violations in Syria and, being in
Israel, human rights violations in the West Bank. Silence in the face of evil is
He added: “Just as I speak out against xenophobia in Sweden, I
have to speak out here.”
He admitted that he has never visited Judea and
Samaria and that, just like most Swedes indoctrinated with systematic
anti-Israel prejudice and borderline anti-Semitic media coverage, his
information comes primarily from three NGOs noted for their steadfast
anti-Israel stance: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem – the
Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Illogical, inconsistent and ill-conceived, Wernstedt’s
stance is troubling on several levels. Not least his uninformed, some might say
blatantly racist, attempt to equate Bashar Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians
with Israel’s self-defense against systematic Palestinian Arab slaughter of
I live in Sweden, and I have never heard Wernstedt
speak out on the subject of xenophobia, ever. He is merely a “celebrity by
proxy” and like others on the fringe of recognition seems willing to sacrifice
family honor to forge some sort of relevance in a world in which he has none. He
appears to be driven by an immature need for attention.
As any teacher of
young children knows, outrageous behavior is an excellent way to get
Wernstedt comes from a tainted background: the very fact that he
is Swedish requires that his credentials be double- and triple-checked. As a
Swede this is a very painful admission for me to make.
Swedes are fed an
unmitigated media diet of anti-Israel prejudice. To take one recent example: the
press here have by and large yet to note that 150 rockets were fired from Gaza
into civilian communities in southern Israel over the past weekend, but they did
report every single Israeli strike on Gaza as a standalone event. Small wonder
then that this impressionable young man “knows” what he knows regarding the
pan-Arab war on the Jewish state.
Wernstedt is a product of his Swedish
upbringing. I spend a lot of time giving lectures and presentations about the
Middle East to high-school students in Swedish schools. I do this on a voluntary
basis. Each presentation requires several days of preparation and documentation
because I know from experience just what I will be facing: initially, automatic
refusal to believe a single word I say about the true nature of Palestinian Arab
rejectionism, the real aim of Islamist aggression both in the Middle East and
the West, the openly racist propaganda that passes for everyday discourse in
much of the Arab world and indeed in “government” circles in the nascent
Palestine II and Palestine III of Gaza and Judea and Samaria, alongside
Palestine I in Jordan. All with the aim of creating Palestine IV in place of
Swedish students begin to take notice when I talk about the first
occupation of the West Bank by Jordan and the ethnic cleansing of Jews that
eventually caused the second occupation of that territory by Israel. It comes as
a revelation that there are no “borders,” only “armistice lines,” and that the
whole point of peace discussions is to agree on borders, once and for
That until then, these are “disputed” territories, not occupied
territory that can be “returned.” The students find it even more interesting
when we discuss the occupation of Tibet by China, of northern Cyprus by NATO
member Turkey. They never hear of this in Sweden.
They are really
attentive when I stop talking and instead show them video clips of top Fatah,
PLO, Hamas, Egyptian, Hezbollah, Iranian and Saudi political, religious and
media figures spouting the most horrendous anti-Semitic, xenophobic and
misogynistic garbage. Clips in which these leaders speak openly and with fervent
conviction about their goals and strategies.
The Swedish students start
dissolving into two groups when the subject of Islamistinspired violence comes
into focus: the boys listen silently, the girls nod their heads eagerly and
feverishly write notes and references.
And that’s really interesting – to
anyone apart from Wernstedt: because without any grounding in what actually
shapes the Arab Middle East, without acknowledging how the worst excesses of the
Arab Middle East are spawning and expanding in his home country of Sweden, he
naturally fails to see that the misogyny and racism that shape the thinking of
much of the Arab world are also very much a part of modern Sweden, imported
together with its large influx of immigrants from the Arab and wider Muslim
Just as Israelis are on the front line facing an ongoing assault
by aggressive Islamism, so too are blonde, blue-eyed Swedish girls on the front
lines of the war at home, defending themselves against an attacking force about
which it is not politically correct to speak in Sweden.
The thinking in
Sweden seems to be that a problem ignored is one less problem to deal with.
Swedish boys don’t have to fend off misogynistic attacks, Swedish girls do. They
recognize the problems I spotlight. During my presentations, I get some
questions from male students about “Israeli violence” and “Israeli human rights
abuses,” but I get large numbers of emails after my presentations from female
students who see in themselves and their situation just what Israel is going
Of course, this is a reality that Wernstedt would not recognize
because he is the very epitome of a Swedish “thinker” on the Middle East: lazy,
prejudiced, mainstream, unprincipled and averse to facts for fear they may
interfere with his preconceived notions.
Which is fine if your name is
Michael Wernstedt. But irresponsible if you are the grandnephew of Raoul
Wallenberg and are abusing that name to make a name for yourself.
Wernstedt should be ashamed of himself for tarnishing the name of a true Swedish
The writer is deputy chairman of the west Sweden branch of the
Sweden-Israel Friendship Association. (www.ilyameyer.com)