Comment: Sweden: The myth of freedom of the press

We have to face the facts. Israel cannot keep ignoring the onslaught coming from Europe, especially Western Europe and the EU countries.

In the last two decades, Israel has been indiscriminately attacked by European governments while the European press routinely distorts information coming from the Middle East. The Swedish press has been at the forefront of this trend, and with the article published last week by Aftonbladet it has clearly gone over the bend. What is worrisome is not so much the fact that the Swedish government refused to condemn it, but that it saw fit to censure their own ambassador in Israel who had very properly rejected this loathsome piece. I think they have crossed a red line. In foreign policy, it is generally wise to act slowly and to consider the possible repercussions of any action or statement. But in this case it is imperative for Israel to react in the strongest possible terms. We cannot just say it's raining when they have been spitting on us for so long. Aftonbladet has a long history. It was started in the 1830s and during the Holocaust it was very pro-Nazi. After the war it began calling itself a social democratic newspaper, while keeping a very critical attitude against the West, especially the US and Israel. They sell close to 1.5 million copies every day, making it an important and influential newspaper in Sweden. The Swedish government has tried to hide behind the veil of "freedom of the press." But I say in very clear terms: There is no press freedom in Sweden. About 80 percent of the newspapers there, especially the four national papers in Stockholm and hundreds of papers in the countryside, which set up the tone in Sweden, are connected in some way to the Social Democrat movement and the trade unions, both of which are anti-Israel. There is a kind of dictatorship of the Social Democrats over the press in Sweden. This is by no means a bold, investigative press. When there are corruption issues or problems, they are mentioned briefly and then left to disappear. No investigation ever takes place. So when Foreign Minister Carl Bildt speaks of freedom of press, I beg to differ. It is true that governments should not intervene in other countries' internal affairs. But we live today in a different world, where the media reign supreme. Transmission of news is instantaneous. This has led governments to intervene in other countries in issues connected to foreign policy. And Israel has experienced this more than any other country. Many countries, especially in Europe, see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most important issue today, and they intervene, usually on the side of the Palestinians. We live in a world of political correctness and multiculturalism, and Israel is seen as a neo-colonialist occupying force. Every day there are anti-Israel articles published in Sweden, and nobody seems to care. I remember one article published in a trade newspaper in southern Sweden in 2003 while I was ambassador. The reporter said, "If you want to learn about genocide, don't go to Auschwitz, go to Bethlehem." I discussed the matter with Jerusalem, as did ambassadors before and after me, but we never got a response. Finally, this government has decided that enough is enough, and I commend them for it. We have to face the facts. Israel cannot keep ignoring the onslaught coming from Europe, especially Western Europe and the EU countries. This demonizing of Israel is a very real threat that must be taken seriously. The time has come to study it thoroughly and to come up with a strategy to fight it. The writer was Israel's ambassador to Sweden from 2002-2004.