The burning of an Israeli flag in the heart of Stockholm’s bustling downtown shopping district this week coincided neatly with Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt’s efforts to placate the Iranian regime.
Bildt, who penned an opinion piece on Tuesday in the International Herald Tribune with his Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja, has somewhat shifted his country’s policies toward Iran and Syria.
While citing his “deeply critical” attitude toward ongoing human rights violations, he nonetheless went to great lengths to prevent the EU from forcing Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson to pull the plug on its contracts with Assad’s regime.
The regimes in both Tehran and Damascus have exploited Western communications technology to crack down on pro-democracy movements. Bildt flatly denied that he sought to protect Sweden’s economic interests, and called his critics “ignorant.” Reuters quoted unnamed diplomats that it “was very unusual for Sweden, known as a staunch defender of human rights, to block sanctions, or for one member state to act alone to do so.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, sent me a note about a Swedish man, Johan Lundell, expressing outrage that his society would react indifferently to the burning of an Israeli flag. The two men suspected of stealing the flag from a dance group and burning it are believed to be Libyan immigrants.
“That such a hate act can be perpetrated with impunity in downtown Stockholm, with no action taken by authorities at the time or since, is an outrage and a danger to Jews,” wrote Rabbi Cooper. “Considering what happened in Norway last summer, the murders now in Toulouse, it is unacceptable to have this act go unanswered by authorities.”
Cooper sent the video to the Swedish justice minister Beatrice Ask. (Skip to 1:10 to see the start of the flag burning. )
Speaking from Sweden, Johan Lundell who is executive director of ProVita, a Swedish pro-family organization, told me “I am utterly disappointed that the Swedish authorities don’t uphold human rights, such as freedom of religion, in the context of a revival of anti-Semitism in our country. Sweden’s good record of defending fundamental human rights is tainted by the lack of interest to defend the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience.”
“Now, more than ever before, it is important to remember the words of Nicholas Gomez Dávila,” he continued. “Violence is not necessary to destroy a civilization. Each civilization dies from indifference to the unique values which created it. Flag desecration and flag burning have absolutely no place in democracies.”
The theft and burning of the Israeli flag have not been reported in Swedish media, and sadly, that comes as little surprise. Bruce Bawer, the highly acclaimed author and expert on radical Islam, neatly captures the crisis of the Swedish press in his article: The Death of Free Speech in Sweden.
A telling example of loathing of Jews and Israel unfolded in Malmö. In 2010, a group of Swedish Muslims in Malmö, a city of 290,000 now constituted approximately 20 percent by Muslim immigrants, blasted “Sieg Heil” and “Hitler, Hitler” from loudspeakers and threw rocks and bottles at a small group of Jews who were peacefully demonstrating in support of Israel.
In response, Malmö’s Social Democratic mayor Ilmar Reepalu blamed the Jews. In an interview with Skånska Dagbladet, appearing on International Holocaust Memorial Day,Reepalu argued that Sweden’s Jews were largely culpable for the violence inflicted on them because they didn’t “distance” themselves from Israel and the IDF operation during the Gaza war. “The community chose to hold a pro-Israel demonstration,” he added.