Swedish group removes controversial W. Bank poster

Spokesman of artwork of rifle-wielding rats devouring W. Bank says image removed after realizing offense it could cause to Jews.

artwork of rifle-wielding rats devouring West Bank 370 (photo credit: Bilda)
artwork of rifle-wielding rats devouring West Bank 370
(photo credit: Bilda)
THE HAGUE – The organizers of an art show in Sweden apologized on Sunday for including an image depicting rifle-wielding rats eating up parts of the West Bank.
The state-funded association behind the show removed the poster after complaints by organizations combating anti-Semitism.
The poster was part of a Christian art exhibition organized by Studieförbundet Bilda, a nongovernmental educational association partly funded by the Swedish government.
The image, drawn by two Swedish pastors who visited the West Bank in 2011, was not yet displayed in the exhibition but was published online.
It was removed from the Internet following complaints by Jewish individuals and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“The use of animalization in caricatures was a favorite propaganda tactic of Nazis, later used by Soviet and Arab cartoonists to dehumanize Jews,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Jerusalem Post.
"While we are satisfied that this drawing has been withdrawn, it is obviously far preferable that this anti-Semitic view of Jews would never have even been imagined, let alone depicted," Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, told the Post. "That it was drawn by Christian pastors just adds another layer of historical religious anti-Semitism which we hoped the European continent would not witness again. The government of Sweden and leading intellectual, educational and religious officials should express zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism."
Magnus Stenberg, a spokesman for Studieförbundet Bilda, said the exhibition had been organized by a local branch of the group.
“The organizers should have consulted the management ahead of publication,” he told the Post.
Bilda has received the equivalent of just over 11.2 million euros from the Swedish National Council of Adult Education, Stenberg said.
“As soon as we realized how one of the pictures could be understood among our Jewish friends we asked the local branch to remove it,” Stenberg said. The original intent, he added, was “to show how all people are victims in the conflict,” but “it is very difficult to say what the rats symbolize. You can’t tell if the rats are Israelis or Palestinian leaders. The important thing is we are unhappy about the image and we took it off.”
Stenberg said there was a need for more education on what are acceptable and unacceptable statements about Israel to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents.
“It is ironic that an organization that deals with education makes such mistakes,” he said. “We are very sorry for it and the lesson is that some symbols are out of the question.”
Earlier this year, Dr. Moshe Kantor said Sweden had become “a center for anti-Semitism” and that the government was ignoring the problem.
According to Dr. Mikael Tossaveinen, head of the Scandinavian desk at Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the research of anti-Semitism, the phenomenon is not unusually prevalent in Swedish society.
Research shows that some 5 percent of the population can be considered anti-Semitic, with another 20 percent harboring ambivalent attitudes.
“Most Swedes know next to nothing about anti-Semitism, and so it doesn’t surprise me that they don’t see the connection between the imagery and Nazi propaganda,” Tossaveinen said. “This becomes extra problematic when they come across anti-Israeli propaganda made in bad faith by people who are anti-Semites.”
He added that Swedes “don’t understand the racist message” and thus will spread the anti-Semitic art because they dislike Israel.
“Then they will be surprised when someone calls attention to the anti-Semitism and interpret that as silencing their criticism of Israel,” Tossaveinen said. “It’s quite tiresome and it happens remarkably often in Sweden.”