Is Sweden headed back to the past?

Is Sweden headed back to

By TOMAS SANDELL
November 10, 2009 21:58
4 minute read.

 
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This is an extract of a speech which will be given at a hearing in the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm today in connection with the debate on the article under the headline "Our sons are plundered for their organs" which appeared in Aftonbladet on August 17. 'This I will have to share..." It was with great admiration and deep sympathy that I listened to the opening address of the impressive Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust on 26 January 2000. Sweden, through its then prime minister Göran Persson, had taken the lead in alerting the world community about the deadly virus of anti-Semitism and about the need to keep the memory of the Shoah alive. In an unprecedented effort to combat new forms of anti-Semitism, 1 million copies of a book about the Shoah, Om detta må ni berätta ( This you will have to share), were distributed in Sweden. Never would it have occured to me that almost exactly 10 years later I would be sitting in the Swedish Parliament opening my speech with these very same words. "This is what I need to share with you..." As a non-Swede and a non-Jew for that matter, but with a broad European outlook, I have to share what I have observed in that country in 2009, 10 years after this landmark conference. Earlier this year a friendly David Cup tennis match in Malmö had to be played without a live audience since the mayor of the host city explained that he "could not guarantee the safety of the event." He also admitted that he "very much disliked the behavior of the Israeli army during Operation Cast Lead" and that he could "well understand the crowd that had gathered outside the match to shout anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish slogans." A small solidarity event in support for Israel had to be broken up "because the police could not guarantee their safety." Later an Israeli tennis player explained that "it felt odd to be able to play professional tennis in Qatar and Dubai but not in Malmö." But violence against Israel has not been limited to Malmö. During a solidarity rally for Israel in Stockholm in January, the audience had to be escorted out from the church by the police, in groups of five. Some blamed the extraordinary measures on the tense situation in Gaza at the time, but the same procedure had to be applied also one year earlier during a Holocaust memorial service in the local synagogue during a period with relative calm in the Middle East. In Israel, the government has been upset with the fact that anti-Israeli NGOs which campaign against the democratically elected government are openly funded by EU-member states. Few governments would accept to be systematically undermined by organizations funded by other nations. Among government agencies which have a long history of funding anti-Israeli groups is Sweden. THE REASON why I am here today is not because of these examples alone, but to discuss the article which appeared in Aftonbladet in August which openly accused the IDF of harvesting organs from dead Palestinians, thus reactivating an old medieval myth of Jews as especially bloodthirsty creatures. The diplomatic crisis which developed between Sweden and Israel as a result of the article will therefore have to be seen in this wider context. Is there latent anti-Semitism in Sweden and, if so, should we discuss it openly? When the article appeared in Aftonbladet, the European Coalition for Israel which I represent, wrote an open letter to Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt asking for an "emergency meeting," very much the same way the EU had acted in 2004 when an EU-survey made it clear that Israel was regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. People have the right to speak their mind, regardless of if they are right or wrong. Newspapers have the right to publish bad articles although ethical guidelines must be adhered to. But a prime minister and a foreign minister of Sweden and at the same time leader of the presidency of the European Union needs to have the moral courage to speak out when he detects the deadly virus of anti-Semitism. This is what the EU did in March 2004 when anti-Semitic sentiments were rampant in Europe and this is what they did again in 2005 when the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark created a stir in EU-Arab relations. On both occasions the EU called for an emergency summit to discuss these real problems. AND YES, we have a problem today in the relations between Israel and Sweden. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are gaining strength in Sweden and in Europe. The election results of the European Parliament in June, where several openly anti-Semitic and racist parties won seats, should leave us in no doubt about this. Perhaps it is symptomatic that the plans for the first openly "anti-Zionist party" has just been presented in Sweden. Their party leader openly welcomes neo-Nazis, radical Islamists as well as right-wing and left-wing extremists to join. This is hardly the Sweden that Göran Persson was dreaming of 10 years ago or the Europe that the heads of state who participated in the Stockholm conference committed to building. Now is the time to wake up. We owe it to the future generations of Europe and we owe it to the Holocaust survivors who we still have among us. Many of them are constantly asking if Europe will ever learn? Will we? Let me seek the answers in two quotes from the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, one from prime minister Göran Persson and another from Elie Wiesel. "The future we are shaping now is the past that we will share tomorrow." But will our past become our children's future? "Ladies and gentleman, let us help answer that question with a convincing 'no!'" The writer is the founding director of the European Coalition for Israel.

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