Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Sweden on Monday, the first Israeli foreign minister to do so in 22 years.The visit follows a thaw in relations between Jerusalem and Stockholm since 2021, after years of tensions.
Cohen visited Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, to meet with Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström and encourage the continued warming of government, business and Jewish Diaspora ties.
“We are opening a new page in relations between Israel and Sweden, after years in which Sweden was critical towards Israel,” Cohen said.
Sweden’s joining NATO in light of the war in Ukraine could be an opportunity for Jerusalem and Stockholm to strengthen their economic relations and trade in the areas of defense, innovation and fintech, he said.
Sweden is expected to increase its defense budget fivefold as a member of NATO.
As president of the EU Council, Sweden “plays a central role in possibly changing Europe’s approach towards the Iranian nuclear and terror threat,” Cohen said.
The foreign ministers discussed the improved relations between their countries, both bilaterally and internationally, and discussed ways to strengthen economic and people-to-people ties, such as the “kibbutz-tech” project in which hundreds of Swedish university students are expected to intern at Israeli start-ups.
Sweden was one of the first countries to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, Cohen said.
“We will continue to fight against all forms of hate,” he added.
Billström said the meeting with Cohen was “very good and productive.”
It was “the first one in 20 years, so long overdue,” he wrote on Twitter. “The purpose was to further strengthen the bilateral relations between Sweden and Israel and to discuss global and regional issues of mutual interest.”
Cohen also met with senior Swedish businesspeople and members of the local Jewish community.
History of Israel-Sweden ties
Sweden-Israel relations reached a low point in 2014, after Stockholm recognized a Palestinian state and Margot Wallström, its foreign minister at the time, accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians. She also said a 2015 ISIS terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people was connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli officials accused Wallström of hostility and antisemitism. Israel did not allow her to visit and withdrew its ambassador to Stockholm.
In September 2021, then-foreign ministers Yair Lapid and Anne Linde became the highest-level officials from Israel and Sweden to speak with each other. Their discussion “symbolizes the relaunching of relations,” Lapid said. Linde visited Israel weeks later.
Political views toward Israel in Sweden have improved in recent years. Three political parties in Sweden support moving the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Sweden’s Iranian expat community has promoted a more critical line toward the Islamic Republic, including a recent parliamentary resolution calling on the government to declare the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.