In August 2009, the Swedish daily Aftonbladet published an article accusing IDF soldiers of killing Palestinians and harvesting their organs, triggering a diplomatic crisis when the Swedish government refused Israeli calls to condemn the piece.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country held the rotating presidency of the EU at the time, was scheduled to visit a few weeks later, but cancelled as a result of the tiff. He hadn’t been back since then – until his visit this week.
Bildt said he had no regrets about the way he, or Sweden, had handled the incident. He also said that the Aftonbladet
article had not come up in a number of meetings in Jerusalem, including one Tuesday morning with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“What happened in that particular case was that one expected me to denounce the newspaper. That’s not what I’m allowed to do under the Swedish constitution,” he said.
Reminded that Israel did not ask for him to denounce Aftonbladet
only to distance himself from the highly offensive article, Bildt said
the issue must be seen within the unique context of Swedish history.
“This goes back to World War II, when Sweden was surrounded by others,
noticeably by Hitler, and he didn’t particularly like what was in the
newspapers,” Bildt said. “He asked the Swedish government at the time to
denounce what was in the newspapers.”
The Soviet Union’s Stalin, Bildt said, also made similar requests of Sweden.
“That led to a very strong constitutional tradition in our country that
when foreign countries want our government to criticize and denounce
what is in our newspapers, the answer is no – there is a distinct red
line,” he said.
“Had I violated that red line, I would have been censured by parliament
in a very serious way. You have to understand the historical background,
to understand how important that red line is to Swedes.”
Bildt did not answer directly when asked if this damaged relations
between Jerusalem and Stockholm, saying there was an “amount of tension”
between Israel and the EU because of “somewhat different perspectives
over the peace process.”
Bildt did not agree with the characterization of Sweden as the most
unfriendly country toward Israel in the EU, saying it was not
“constructive” to “divide the EU into the friendly and the non-friendly,
that is not the way the EU works.”
“I remember a time when Mideast policies were fairly divisive inside Sweden and inside the EU,” he said, “That is gone.”
Bildt said he remembered when Sweden was an “extremely pro-Israel nation.
The basic support of Israel is engrained in Sweden.”
And now, he is asked. “It still is – for Israel, not necessarily for the
policies on the West Bank and Gaza. The Gaza war meant a lot for
European public opinion.”