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Nobody will admit it formally, but a few government officials in Jerusalem are dancing a jig over the defeat Sunday of Sweden's Social Democratic government.
For years, said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Stockholm, the Swedish Social Democratic government has promoted an unabashedly "pro-Arab, anti-Israeli" position.
Mazel said that the centerright parties, headed by 41-year-old prime minister designate Fredrik Reinfeld, who ousted Prime Minister Goran Persson, made supportive comments about Israel while in the opposition.
"We had good relations with them in the past, and hope it will continue," Mazel said.
Mazel - who in 2004 wrecked a display at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm that glorified a suicide bomber - said that Sweden has for years been among the most critical countries in the EU towards Israel, along with Ireland and France.
He said that the new government was likely to bring Sweden's Middle East policy from the far left into the center in the EU, and that he believed the new government's public declarations about Israel and the Middle East would be far less critical.
Mazel's optimism was shared by Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European parliament from one of the central-right Swedish parties. Hokmark, chairman of the Israel-Swedish Friendship League, said from Brussels that he thought the new government would "chart a more balanced policy," toward Israel.
According to Hokmark, the new government was likely to "be more focused on the support for democracy development in the Middle East."
Although foreign policy played almost no role in the elections, Hokmark said Reinfeld had made some comments in the campaign for the need for stable regimes in Syria and Lebanon.
One senior official in Jerusalem said that although it was hard to say whether there would be a dramatic change in Stockholm's policies, "there is definitely an opportunity now to turn a new page. The social democrats went that extra mile in their criticism of Israel," the official said. Over the last few years, he added, Sweden has distinguished itself in being more critical of Israel than about any other European country.
Among the major Israeli-Swedish diplomatic brickbats over the last four years were the following:
In May, Sweden broke ranks with the European Union and issued a visa to a Hamas minister, enraging Jerusalem and causing discomfort in some other European capitals.
In April, Israel protested Sweden's decision to drop out of an international air force exercise because Israel was involved. Persson told reporters at the time that Sweden withdrew from the exercise in Italy because "we are careful about joining exercises with countries that we won't cooperate with in international missions under UN or EU mandates," he said.
"That's our principle ... that's our history. The Israelis have another, more warlike, history, which I find regrettable for that matter."
In June 2004, visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds took Israel to task for alleged violations of international law, saying Sweden's younger generation gets very upset when it sees these violations on television.
In 2003, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was later assassinated, said at an award ceremony in Sweden for Hanan Ashrawi that "I fear that the Palestinian people soon will lose all hope of an independent state, and that Israel will lose its moral values. Israel is a democracy balancing on a thin line." she said.
In August 2002, after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report on the IDF's operations in the Jenin refugee camp that cleared Israel of Palestinian charges of a massacre in the camp, Lindh released a press statement taking issue with the conclusions. "Israel's refusal to cooperate with the UN has meant that a full and comprehensive report has not been possible to produce," she said. "The report shows that serious crimes against humanitarian law have occurred."
In May 2002, Lindh - a frequent critic of former prime minister Ariel Sharon - said in a Swedish media interview that her goal was that "Israeli citizens will turn against the military polices of Sharon." She said "Israel's government has chosen a course of action that risks placing the country outside of the rest of the world community."
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