Israel and Sweden have a chance to strengthen their relations, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his counterpart from Stockholm, Ann Linde, said in Jerusalem on Monday, during the first visit to Israel by a Swedish foreign minister in a decade.
“Sweden is a friend of Israel,” Linde said, adding: “We both see a real opportunity to deepen our dialogue further and develop long-standing cooperation when it comes to innovation, culture and trade, as well as fighting antisemitism... I also learned Foreign Minister Lapid is a champion of women’s rights, and as a feminist foreign minister in a feminist government with a feminist foreign policy, I see here more opportunity for cooperation.”
Linde is the first Swedish foreign minister to visit Israel since Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014, sparking a diplomatic row and downgrading relations below the level of foreign ministers.
Lapid commended Linde for making an effort to bring the countries back together.
“In our conversations, we agreed [that] friends don’t have to agree on everything,” he said. “I appreciated what you told me: that behind the criticism lies a deep support for Israel’s security and the right of Jews to establish a state in our historic homeland.”
Lapid said he and Linde shared a “common desire to develop, advance and realize the economic and social potential between the countries and cultivate and grow connections in technology and trade.”
“I believe that because of the page we are turning here today, there will be a whole new book of friendship and cooperation,” Lapid said.
Linde “reaffirmed Sweden’s commitment to the security of Israel,” adding that she and Lapid had discussed the Iranian threat and other regional developments.
Linde congratulated Israel for the Abraham Accords, the peace and normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states.
“Sweden supports efforts at dialogue and understanding in the region,” she said. “Normalization between Israel and Arab countries is truly positive for peace and security.”
However, Sweden still wants to see a two-state solution and the end of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Linde said.
She cited last week’s Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism and thanked Israel for its support and participation. President Isaac Herzog took part in the conference via live video.
Lapid spoke about Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis in Hungary, including Lapid’s father, former justice minister Tommy Lapid.
Linde also visited Yad Vashem, which she said was “painful but crucial.”
“On behalf of Sweden, I promise that we say ‘Never again’ and mean it,” she tweeted. “We will continue to take actions to combat antisemitism in all its forms and to make sure we never forget.”
Visit to @yadvashem, World Holocaust Remembrance Center. A very painful but crucial visit. On behalf of Sweden I promise that we say never again and mean it. We will continue to take actions to combat antisemitism in all its form and to make sure we never forget. pic.twitter.com/cLDM9qsH4o— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) October 18, 2021
Earlier, Linde visited Herzog at the President’s Residence.
Herzog thanked Linde for hosting the Malmö Forum, stressing the need for international unity in fighting antisemitism.
He “emphasized the importance of the indisputable fact of Israel’s unique status in the family of nations as the state of the Jewish People, which maintains equality between all its citizens and is a liberal democracy,” his spokesman said.
Herzog also highlighted the Abraham Accords and encouraged Sweden to actively support efforts for peace and normalization with more states in the region.
The 2014 diplomatic dispute between Israel and Sweden was exacerbated when Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians. At a pro-Israel rally in Stockholm in 2016, Lapid, who was the leader of an opposition party, accused Wallström of antisemitism. Israel recalled its ambassador from Stockholm for a month, and there was no contact between the countries on the ministerial level until this year.
But over the past two years, Sweden has made an effort to improve relations, including speaking in favor of convening the EU-Israel Association Council and supporting Israeli candidacy to UN bodies.
Those efforts culminated with Lapid and Linde meeting on the sidelines of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in July, where Linde expressed her willingness to improve relations between the countries.
Following the first official conversation between Israeli and Swedish foreign ministers in seven years in September, Sweden announced it would boycott the anti-Israel Durban IV Conference at the UN.
Relations between Israel and Sweden also fit with Lapid’s stated goal of strengthening Israel’s ties to liberal, democratic countries.