August 25: Why are we surprised at the Swedes?

The world - and too many Israelis - see the Scandinavian countries as paragons of progressive enlightenment.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sir, - Why are we surprised at the Swedes? ("Ministers fume about Swedish story, as efforts continue to reduce bilateral tensions," August 24). The world - and too many Israelis - see the Scandinavian countries as paragons of progressive enlightenment; but for Jews, the Nordic countries have been as cold and dark as the Arctic winter. Norway did not allow Jews to live legally in the country until the late 19th century. Sweden tolerated small communities of Jewish merchants in designated places while depriving them of political rights. Finland did not allow Jews to settle until the 20th century. Anti-Semitism runs deep. The small Jewish communities are not allowed to practice shechita - kosher ritual slaughter - on the grounds of cruelty. Yet in all these countries, hunting is a national pastime expressed in that strangest of all Olympic competitions, the biathlon, which consists of shooting and skiing, a hunter's sport. One reason for this ingrained anti-Semitism can be found in 500 years of Lutheranism. A vigorous debate can be held over which Christian sect is most Jew-hating, but Lutheranism is certainly among the leaders. Luther's infamous Against the Jews and Their Lies was a blueprint for the Shoah. In his last sermon before his death, he declared that the Jews would be neither "pardoned or pitied." During WWII, the Finns fought as allies of Germany and Sweden supplied the Nazis with iron, steel and ball-bearings, allowing German troops to cross its territory. Norway, infamous for Vidkun Quisling, contributed thousands of troops to the Wermacht and the Waffen SS. When will the Israeli Left learn that the Scandinavians are not our friends? JOSEF GILBOA Jaffa Sir, - If Swedish officials and newspapers do not have an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel agenda regarding the libel that our soldiers kill Arab enemies for their vital organs, why don't these sources regularly blast China for deliberately killing Chinese prisoners on a daily basis in order to harvest these unfortunate souls' organs for sale or transplant? MARK FEFFER Jerusalem Sir, - In "'Aftonbladet' to Neve Gordon" (Editorial, August 24), you implied that the Israeli government's response to the Swedish blood libel was over the top. I would respond by saying that our response has been underwhelming. The accusation in Sweden that the IDF deals in body organs is pure McCarthyism at its worst. It does not take a rocket scientist to estimate that the distance between the demonizing of the Jewish people and the murder of a Jew is very short. As you correctly pointed out, this is not a new phenomenon in Europe. However, what is new is the acceptability of anti-Semitic blood libels in post-Holocaust Europe. What this observer does not understand is: 1. Why hasn't our ambassador been recalled? and 2. Why hasn't the IDF announced that it will sue Aftonbladet and its reporter? MATTIAS ROTENBERG Petah Tikva Sir, - I just wanted to say that your Comment by ex-ambassador Zvi Mazel saying that 80 percent of the Swedish media is controlled by Social Democrats is not true ("Sweden: The myth of freedom of the press," August 24). The fact is that the largest media family in Sweden is Bonnier, owning the biggest newspaper in Sweden (Dagens Nyheter) plus hundreds of small magazines; and they are Jews. Plus the CEO of Sweden's biggest channel network, TV4, Jan Scherman, is also a Jew. Mr. Mazel is adding another misrepresentation to this conflict between our countries. CAMILO GYLLBÄCK Stockholm Zvi Mazel responds: Here it is again. "The Jews own the press in Sweden, and therefore they are to blame." As it happens, the Bonnier family is German, of Jewish ancestry. They converted to Christianity sometime in the late 19th century. To call them Jews after so many years is pure racism. It means, and this is current in Sweden, that a converted Jew remains a Jew, and so do his offspring - race being stronger than religion, one is led to assume. Jewish ownership of newspapers, if it exists, is not in contradiction to the ideology of the Swedish social democracy. One can be Jewish, or "of Jewish descent," and still support the Social Democrat Party. (Dare I say that not all Jews in Israel refrain from criticizing Israel?) Dagens Nyheter, considered Sweden's Haaretz, is social democrat in ideology and sometimes rivals Aftonbladet in attacking Israel. I'll never forget the article the paper published in October 2003 by Ian Samuelson, a so-called expert on religion and religious history, explaining that it was legitimate for Arabs to hate Jews as long as Israel occupied Arab territories. "Muslim hatred of Jews is justified," he wrote. The paper never paid any attention to the protests; like Aftonbladet today. Since the Social Democrat Party ruled Sweden from the '30s until 2006, with two short breaks, big business has become closer to the ruling party, and so have its papers. There are very few, if any, influential newspapers belonging to the Right, and certainly not in Stockholm and the main cities. Sir, - Re "Israel disturbed by Swedish gov't silence on organ snatching story" (August 20): This is the full version of the quote from Swedish MP Birgitta Ohlsson, who sits on the parliament's committee on foreign affairs: "I think it's devastating and totally unacceptable. It's not the first time that we've seen similar stories in this paper. Of course independent newspapers in a liberal democracy should have the opportunity to criticize other countries, but sometimes you need to discuss what is happening when a critique on the State of Israel is turning into anti-Semitism." JENNY SONESSON Liberal Party of Sweden Stockholm Fit for life Sir, - "Fighting fit" (Yaakov Katz, August 20) exposed, at long last, the low level of fitness within the IDF. The creative and successful program initiated by Col. Avi Moyal to reverse this situation is commendable, and surely proof of his unswerving commitment to the cause. However, female soldiers are excluded from participating in similar forums - apart from a recently introduced course on self-defense; which in any case will hardly help if they are out of condition. As a former ballet dancer, now Pilates teacher and all-round-fitness trainer, still actively participating in my classes at age 73, it is so disappointing to observe the level of deterioration and lack of stamina evident in my students after their two-year spell in the army. They need motivation to continue a healthy and active lifestyle. There also needs to be compulsory physical fitness programs in our schools, where surplus energy can be channelled into sporting activities instead of into violence and dysfunctional behavior. GISH TRUMAN ROBBINS Pardesiya