The Stockholm syndrome

Is the anti-Israel rhetoric of Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party down to a desire to placate the Arab world and its own restless Muslim community?

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom
(photo credit: REUTERS)
SWEDEN’S SOCIAL Democratic Party (SAP) has never been known for its sympathy for Israel. Nevertheless, the open hostility displayed by its two present leaders, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, is making a growing number of Swedes uneasy.
After a brief stint out of office, the SAP made a narrowly won comeback in the September 2014 elections. Löfven’s first declaration after forming a minority coalition government with the Greens was to formally recognize “the State of Palestine,” making Sweden the first European country to do so. This was followed by a series of attacks on Israel, as if the Jewish state was the country’s foremost enemy.
And this at a time when Sweden was beset by serious economic and social problems.
Some suggest that Löfven’s policy is intended to court the votes of the 700,000-strong Muslim community. He leads a shaky minority government that will continue to exist only as long as the center- right parties, which garnered 39.3 percent of the vote, lack strong leadership and continue to shun the far-right Swedish Democrats, which won a surprising 13 percent.
Both coalition parties are united in their hostile stance toward Israel – a fact I discovered to my cost when I was ambassador in Stockholm and representatives of the Greens flatly refused to meet with me. Recent statements by Wallström, backed by Löfven, riled many Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On November 14, a day after the Paris terror attacks, the Swedish foreign minister spoke of a connection between Islamist extremism and Palestinians resorting to violence because they believe they have no future. In a lengthy parliamentary debate on December 4, Wallström was quoted as saying, “I reject and condemn the stabbing attacks. I think it’s terrible and must not happen, and Israel has the right to defend itself and ensure its security,” before adding, “Israel’s response cannot be – and I say this in other cases as well – one of extrajudicial executions or a disproportionate response that brings to a number of deaths on the other side that is much greater than the original number of casualties.” When confronted with some of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s more incendiary statements, she declared that the Palestinian leader had told her that he wanted peace and abhorred terror and that she believed him.
Unfortunately, Löfven and Wallström are well in line with their party’s traditional position. When Olof Palme became leader in the ’60s, Sweden left the Western camp to embrace some of the policies of the Non-Aligned Movement; its relations with the US deteriorated over Vietnam; then came the shift to the decidedly pro-Arab positions, which are still prevalent today.
In 1988, Sweden became the first European country to host Yasser Arafat on a state visit. During the second intifada, when suicide bombers left hundreds of dead and wounded, the late Anna Lindh, then Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, focused her attacks on Israel, and called on the European Union to sever its ties with Israel.
Sweden has been at the forefront of countries welcoming refugees from Arab countries over the past 40 years to the extent that today it has exceeded its capacity and can no longer accept the hundreds of thousands of Muslim asylum seekers clamoring for its hospitality.
In a rare moment of candor, Löfven admitted that Sweden had been naïve regarding terror threats, and that there were now Swedish citizens who openly declared their sympathy for Islamic State. New security measures had to be taken and a closer watch would be kept on some immigrants while border controls would be temporarily restored.
Which begs the question: Is the forced reassessment of the country’s policy toward refugees one of the reasons the government is escalating its anti-Israel rhetoric? In other words, is it an attempt to placate the Muslim world at a time when Sweden might need its support? Sweden has submitted its candidacy for one of the non-permanent seats at the UN Security Council and may be counting on the votes of Islamic countries. A case in point is Wallström’s sycophantic backtracking after rebuking Saudi Arabia for a harsh sentence imposed on a hapless blogger in February. Ryadh took some retaliatory measures and 30 Muslim countries roundly condemned what they saw as unwarranted interference in Saudi internal affairs.
In front of a hastily convened session of the Swedish parliament, Wallström bent over backwards to stress that she never criticized Islam and had not intended to offend Saudi Arabia.
Of course Israel, the world’s lone Jewish country, does not wield the same kind of clout.
Zvi Mazel, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former Israeli ambassador to Sweden and to Egypt