Sweden is beautiful - home to beautiful blonde, blue-eyed Nordic types who spare no effort to stress just how beautiful they are. Claiming a superior streamlined aesthetic, the beautiful people export beautiful designs - as in IKEA and H&M brands. Likewise resplendent in smug moral self-satisfaction, they idolize their own idealized virtue and spare no effort to convert the rest of the world to their more august standards and unadulterated perceptions of goodness.
They are better than the rest of us, certainly better than Jews, whom they don't quite like. Just in a 2006 survey, 41 percent of Swedes admitted to harboring anti-Semitic sentiments in varying degrees. Among them, some categorized their anti-Semitism as "extreme." Moreover, it stands to reason that many of those who didn't admit to judeophobia cannot be counted as lovers of Zion.
So it was hardly a surprise to learn that Sweden's most popular daily, Aftonbladet, saw fit to feature a report - in its cultural supplement of all sections - which presented no hint of objective evidence to back up assertions that IDF soldiers abduct Palestinians, remove their internal organs and sell these body parts for profit.
DOES THIS clash with disarming Swedish facades of loveliness and righteousness? Hardly. In my own household the phenomenon of alluringly packaged abomination is encapsulated in Sir Edward Burne-Jones's striking gouache The Prioress's Tale. Inspired by Chaucer, Burne-Jones was obsessed with the theme for some four decades. The subject of his first painting endured throughout his lifetime.
This became my daughter's favorite image in her early teens. When still in junior high, in total incongruity with her peers, she developed a gripping fascination with pre-Raphaelite art. The Prioress of 1898, one of Burne-Jones's last paintings, caught her eye. It's hard to dispute its dreamlike delicacy and technical virtuosity, replete with beguiling symbolism (white lily for purity, red poppy for consolation, sunflower for adoration and wallflower for fidelity in adversity).
All that made it especially difficult to explain the subject matter to an enthralled youngster.
Yet this exquisite work depicts the fable of a seven-year-old boy in an unnamed Asian city, whose throat was slit by Jews for singing a Christian hymn. Miraculously, despite the fatal wound, the underage martyr continued to trill because the Virgin Mary placed a magical grain on his tongue. The actual slaughter is revealed in a background vignette.
The narrative of a child sacrificed in a trumped-up Jewish ritual was a particularly popular medieval calumny that originated circa 1144 in Norwich, England. Numerous spurious spin-offs of this malicious genre cost many Jews, in diverse corners of the world, their lives in the ensuing centuries.
Revamped in modern guise, the old-time blood-libel still thrives in Sweden. The Aftonbladet story, carried by a mass-circulation news outlet which prides itself on progressive principles (self-proclaimed though they be), is doubtlessly as great a potential catalyst to hate crimes and prejudice as any anti-Semitic blood libel of yesteryear.
SWEDES SEEM intent on dabbling in demonization. They refused residence to Jews as late as 1774 and only accorded them rights in 1870. Until 1961 a Jew couldn't serve in Sweden's government. Sweden did give asylum to 8,000 Danish and 900 Norwegian Jewish refugees from Nazi occupation. However, only 3,000 German Jews were sheltered pre-World War II. Demonstrating Swedish students and antagonistic public opinion severed that lifeline. Under socialist rule (1932-2006) Sweden relished anti-Semitic motifs, though post-Holocaust these transmuted into anti-Israel themes.
Sweden had good reason to cover up its Jew-revulsion. Its World War II nonaligned status was essentially bogus. Having expediently abstained from fighting Nazi Germany - though Swedish neutrality isn't constitutionally mandated - Stockholm in effect abetted the Third Reich. Nazi manufacturers received generous Swedish credit and Wehrmacht reinforcements enjoyed safe passage through Sweden into Norway. Hitler couldn't have maintained his war machine without unstinting supplies of Swedish iron and steel. At the very least, Sweden prolonged the war, while the Holocaust death-industry operated unabated.
In this counterfeit neutrality's name, Sweden later avowed that it must side with the downtrodden Third World. Expectedly and conveniently, minuscule Israel was classed as a great imperialistic ogre. This wasn't just rhetoric. One of Yasser Arafat's first glory-garnering European junkets was to beautiful Sweden. Stockholm began squandering huge sums on NGOs promoting causes inimical to Israel, including assorted Palestinian front organizations. Sweden partly financed the 2001 book in which the original organ-snatching defamation appeared.
Swedish clerics and literati vociferously campaign for anti-Israel boycotts and for abrogating EU trade agreements with Israel. Sweden's outspoken, uncompromising hostility to Israel remains a foregone conclusion in all international forums.
The Muslim influx merely made an already bad situation incalculably worse. Muslims, some of whom overtly agitate for Islamizing infidel Scandinavia, today account for some 500,000 of Sweden's 9 million population. While Muslims parade in all fashion of exotic garb in Sweden's central cities, their anti-Jewish harassment is so open, and so unchallenged, that Jews refrain from so much as donning skullcaps outdoors.
AS ELSEWHERE in Europe, the most fundamentalist Muslims are cosseted by ostensibly the most liberal circles. Green activists, communist leftovers and strident anarchists all consider Muslims to be victims of Western/Israeli repression. Such viewpoints saturate public discourse. Sweden's political upheaval of 2006 hadn't much affected its media predispositions.
Sounds familiar to us Israelis?
Having become a core constituency of the Left, the Muslim genie cannot be shoved back into the bottle. Hence last March's anti-Israel riots during the Davis Cup tennis tournament in Malmo - a city already one-quarter Muslim.
And the Left-dominated media is a self-perpetuating thought-molder. Any murmur of dissent is castigated as bigotry, racism and fascism. To be sure, there are other mind-sets in Sweden, though defenders of democracy are liable to be denounced.
Significantly, Sweden's premier and foreign minister - who aren't consistently noninterventionist - refused to condemn Aftonbladet's fabrications. Although official Sweden helped fund the initial slander, they pointedly dissociated themselves even from the displeasure sounded by their own ambassador to Israel, because "the Swedish government is committed to freedom of the press."
That freedom, however, guarantees the right to publish, but also not to publish. Not every incendiary text that's submitted must see print. Editors not only have autonomy to accept material, but also the duty to reject what is blatantly false and inciteful. To do otherwise is to amplify the lies of latter-day blood libelers - precisely what Aftonbladet has done. It didn't serve liberty; it unthinkably injured it.
Swedes may kid themselves that their placid and pleasant society is the most successful the world has ever known. But beneath the slick veneer of Sweden's multicultural wonder lurks seething polarization that threatens to eventually unleash on Sweden what its radicals wish on Israel. Superficially Sweden is every bit as fetching as Burne-Jones's imaginative visual interpretation. As in the captivating painting, the seemingly sublime can indeed conceal inconceivable virulence.