Analysis: Amid Sweden crisis, are Europe’s Social Democratic parties shifting against Israel

After an angry public protest from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Löfven appeared to water down his recognition statement on Sunday.

Sweden's Prime minister Stefan Lofven (standing C) announces his new government during a Parliament session in Stockholm October 3 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sweden's Prime minister Stefan Lofven (standing C) announces his new government during a Parliament session in Stockholm October 3
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN – The diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden over the Scandinavian country’s recognition of “Palestine” as an independent state has brought a shift among European Social Democratic parties against Israel’s interests front-and-center into the foreign policy sphere.
The Friday announcement of Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister, Stefan Löfven, that “Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine” jolted Israel’s political establishment. After an angry public protest from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Löfven appeared to water down his recognition statement on Sunday, saying that Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state will take place as part of a bilateral negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Anti-Israel sentiments from Sweden’s Social Democrats have been conspicuous over the years. In 2011, the Social Democratic politician Omar Mustafa tweeted that Sweden should send fighter planes against Israel instead of targeting the regime of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Mustafa, the chairman of the Islamic Association in Sweden, was elected in 2013 to the governing board of the Social Democratic party.
After revelations surfaced that, as head of the Islamic Association, Mustafa permitted the organization to reject recognizing women as equals to their male counterparts and invited a speaker who voiced hardcore anti-gay ideologies, he resigned his post in the governing board. It is worth noting that Mustafa’s well-publicized tweet calling for air strikes against Israel did not bar him from serving in the governing board of his party.
The former Social Democratic mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, said that “I would wish for the Jewish community to denounce Israeli violations against the civilian population in Gaza. Instead, it decides to hold a [pro-Israel] demonstration in the Grand Square [of Malmö], which could send the wrong signals.”
Adrian Kaba, a Social Democratic city councilman in Malmö, wrote on his Facebook page in July that “ISIS [Islamic State] is being trained by the Israeli Mossad.
Muslims are not waging war, they are being used as pawns by other peoples’ game.”
All of this does not suggest that the Swedish Social Democrats are infected with a broad-based anti-Israel view.
There is a struggle unfolding in the party to define its policies toward the Jewish state.
A similar internecine fight has got the German Social Democrats (SPD) tangled up in knots. In a September World Jewish Congress event in Berlin, attendees sharply criticized SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel for describing Israel in 2012 as an “Apartheid regime.”
Gabriel was asked at the event why the SPD’s former general-secretary, Andrea Nahles, declared “shared values” between the Palestinian Fatah party and the SPD.
Participants questioned him about his party’s vice president, Ralf Stegner, who in the summer called for an embargo of German weapons deliveries to Israel.
Gabriel, according to a participant, expressly distanced himself from Stegner, and said that the latter does not speak for the SPD. Gabriel appears to have green-lighted new weapons transfers to Israel.
When questioned about anti-Israel views within the SPD, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry referred The Jerusalem Post to a commentary from the Social Democratic Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the German Jewish weekly Jüdische Allgemeine, where he wrote a hard-charging opinion piece critical of the explosion of anti-Semitism during Operation Protective Edge.
“We are shocked by the anti-Semitic agitation and attacks” in Germany, he said. “The phenomenon of latent anti-Semitic attitudes, which are reflected in exaggerated Israel criticism, is, unfortunately, known for quite some time.”
A former Social Democratic deputy told the Post that Steinmeier understands Israel’s core security interests.
However, Alex Feuerherdt, a long-time commentator on German-Israel relations and a journalist, told the Post that the leadership of the SPD has failed to criticize Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his refusal to recognize a Jewish state.
He also cited the Fatah logo, which shows a map of the “entire Palestine” without Israel, as a telling example of SPD inaction.
“Has Abbas ever been criticized by leading SPD politicians for that?” asked Feuerherdt.
Socialist President François Hollande has taken tough positions against contemporary anti-Semitism in France. Hollande told Jewish and Muslim leaders in July in the Élysée Palace that combating anti-Semitism will be a “national cause.”
His government, however, initially resisted a designation of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization after the militia murdered five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver in 2012. The EU proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist entity in 2013.
In contrast to the conservatives in Germany and the United Kingdom, which abstained, France’s Socialist government voted to recognize non-observer status for the PLO at the UN General Assembly vote in 2012.
Nidra Poller, a journalist who has been living in Paris since 1972, has written extensively about French-Israeli relations, told the Post that “outright hostility to Israel, including participation in ‘death to the Jews’ stampedes and Gaza flotillas, is a specialty of the Greens and Far Left parties in France, from the Front de Gauche to the NPA [New Anti-Capitalist Party].”
She said “both Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls and former president Nicolas Sarkozy show genuine affection for Israel, but unflinching support is significantly greater among Conservatives. Several MPs visited to show their support during the Protective Edge operation.”
Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.