Sweden removes Israel from social media blacklist following diplomatic tiff

The Swedish Institute, operating under the authority of the Swedish Foreign Office, briefly placed Israel's MFA and the country's Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman on a Twitter blacklist.

By
May 17, 2017 09:35
3 minute read.
Flags of Israel and Sweden

Flags of Israel and Sweden. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Sweden briefly blocked the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israel's Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman on social media Wednesday morning as part of a list of Twitter entities who the state believes disseminate hate speech online.

The Swedish Institute later removed the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Ambassador Bachman from the list on Wednesday afternoon and issued an apology.

A Foreign Ministry official told the Jerusalem Post that "it appears to have been a mishap and we've gone beyond it."

A Swedish embassy representative added that "the Swedish Institute is an independent governmental agency. Neither the Government offices of Sweden nor the Foreign Ministry is involved in running this account."

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesperson for the MFA, reacted with outrage when he first heard that the government office and the envoy were blacklisted, commenting on Twitter that: "@swedenese, Swedish gov account, blocknig @IsraelMFA and @IsraelinSweden. Crazy and Shameful."

Nahshon then added mockingly: "Democracy and pluralism at its best..."

Upon learning that Sweden took Israel and Bachman off the list, he tweeted: "Just in- @swedenese unblocked #Israeli accounts and apologized. I feel a bit disappointed that I wasn't blocked."

The full list of users who are allegedly engaged or could potentially engage in online slander was composed by the Swedish public agency The Swedish Institute, which operates under the authority of the Swedish Foreign Office.

Among the individuals on the list are parliamentarians from different parties in Sweden as well as journalists and public figures, according to Swedish online newspaper Nyheter Idag.

The list is being used to ban users that follow the Twitter handle @Sweden, which is owned and run by the institute.


The Swedish Institute provided an explanation on its official website, saying that: "Approximately 12,000 international Swedish accounts that engage in baiting, threats, hatred and incitement against immigrants, women and LGBTQ-persons, but also against organizations that are committed to human rights [have been blocked]."

"These accounts often have a right-wing extremist and/or a neo-Nazi tendency, and they also incite to violence," the Swedish Institute added.

Isaac Bachman, Israel's Ambassador to Sweden, responded to the ban on Tuesday, and took to Twitter to express his dismay over his inclusion in the list. "Now, that #Israel's MFA and ambassador are blocked- #Sweden is much safer in reading Iran and others, that were not blocked," the ambassador wrote in a jab aimed at the Swedish Institute.


Bachman is known for his snide and at times controversial comments, and was criticized in the past for expressing strong opinions against Muslim immigrants to Sweden. In January 2015, an anti-Muslim post he penned and publish on his Facebook page evoked a lot of outrage. "It's hard to find peace-seeking Muslims," the ambassador wrote. "The Muslims are not happy in any Muslim country" and "also blame the others" for their condition, he added.

Bachman wrote his post at the time as a reaction to the lethal Charlie Hebdo terror attack that struck Paris in which 12 people were killed and 11 others injured when two brothers stormed the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Bachman said that it was not incidental that the the two were Muslim and named a slew of terror attacks that were carried out by Muslim terrorists in the recent past. "In all of the instances, the terrorists were Muslim," he wrote. "And we didn't even touch on the thousands of terror attacks against Israel and against other Muslims," he added.

Sweden's critical stance towards Israeli policies that has been expressed at crucial UN votes in the past has been the cause of a diplomatic tiff between the Scandinavian country and the Jewish state. On May 2, Sweden was the only EU country to vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution that rejected Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem. Israel responded with anger over Sweden's actions, and summoned Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser to the Foreign Ministry to protest Sweden's vote.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry issued a statement explaining its vote in which it said that it "welcomes the constructive efforts undertaken by Palestine and Jordan in presenting a more focused draft resolution to the [UNESCO] executive board. The text has improved substantially compared to previous years."

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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