A view from Sweden: Sullying Raoul Wallenberg’s reputation

Wallenberg's grandnephew Michael Wernstedt’s stance on Israeli policy in the West Bank is troubling,

raoul wallenberg 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
raoul wallenberg 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Raoul Wallenberg was the epitome of selflessness, bravery and principle. He refused to be silent in the face of evil, he refused to kowtow to expediency, he used his extraordinary organizational skills for humanitarian purposes.
His greatest achievement was to rescue thousands of Jewish victims of Nazi genocide.
But that is just half the picture. The other half is the very traits that drove him to save those lives: traits that have totally bypassed his grandnephew Michael Wernstedt.
On a recent trip to Israel during which he attended a commemorative event at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel’s capital, Wernstedt stunned his hosts, abusing his family’s memory and the solemn occasion to deliver what should be understood in its proper context: a self-serving attempt to carve out a name for himself on the back of Swedish hero Wallenberg’s achievements.
Wernstedt said in Jerusalem: “I must mention human rights violations in Syria and, being in Israel, human rights violations in the West Bank. Silence in the face of evil is evil.”
He added: “Just as I speak out against xenophobia in Sweden, I have to speak out here.”
He admitted that he has never visited Judea and Samaria and that, just like most Swedes indoctrinated with systematic anti-Israel prejudice and borderline anti-Semitic media coverage, his information comes primarily from three NGOs noted for their steadfast anti-Israel stance: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Illogical, inconsistent and ill-conceived, Wernstedt’s stance is troubling on several levels. Not least his uninformed, some might say blatantly racist, attempt to equate Bashar Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians with Israel’s self-defense against systematic Palestinian Arab slaughter of Jewish civilians.
I live in Sweden, and I have never heard Wernstedt speak out on the subject of xenophobia, ever. He is merely a “celebrity by proxy” and like others on the fringe of recognition seems willing to sacrifice family honor to forge some sort of relevance in a world in which he has none. He appears to be driven by an immature need for attention.
As any teacher of young children knows, outrageous behavior is an excellent way to get noticed.
Wernstedt comes from a tainted background: the very fact that he is Swedish requires that his credentials be double- and triple-checked. As a Swede this is a very painful admission for me to make.
Swedes are fed an unmitigated media diet of anti-Israel prejudice. To take one recent example: the press here have by and large yet to note that 150 rockets were fired from Gaza into civilian communities in southern Israel over the past weekend, but they did report every single Israeli strike on Gaza as a standalone event. Small wonder then that this impressionable young man “knows” what he knows regarding the pan-Arab war on the Jewish state.
Wernstedt is a product of his Swedish upbringing. I spend a lot of time giving lectures and presentations about the Middle East to high-school students in Swedish schools. I do this on a voluntary basis. Each presentation requires several days of preparation and documentation because I know from experience just what I will be facing: initially, automatic refusal to believe a single word I say about the true nature of Palestinian Arab rejectionism, the real aim of Islamist aggression both in the Middle East and the West, the openly racist propaganda that passes for everyday discourse in much of the Arab world and indeed in “government” circles in the nascent Palestine II and Palestine III of Gaza and Judea and Samaria, alongside Palestine I in Jordan. All with the aim of creating Palestine IV in place of Israel.
Swedish students begin to take notice when I talk about the first occupation of the West Bank by Jordan and the ethnic cleansing of Jews that eventually caused the second occupation of that territory by Israel. It comes as a revelation that there are no “borders,” only “armistice lines,” and that the whole point of peace discussions is to agree on borders, once and for all.
That until then, these are “disputed” territories, not occupied territory that can be “returned.” The students find it even more interesting when we discuss the occupation of Tibet by China, of northern Cyprus by NATO member Turkey. They never hear of this in Sweden.
They are really attentive when I stop talking and instead show them video clips of top Fatah, PLO, Hamas, Egyptian, Hezbollah, Iranian and Saudi political, religious and media figures spouting the most horrendous anti-Semitic, xenophobic and misogynistic garbage. Clips in which these leaders speak openly and with fervent conviction about their goals and strategies.
The Swedish students start dissolving into two groups when the subject of Islamistinspired violence comes into focus: the boys listen silently, the girls nod their heads eagerly and feverishly write notes and references.
And that’s really interesting – to anyone apart from Wernstedt: because without any grounding in what actually shapes the Arab Middle East, without acknowledging how the worst excesses of the Arab Middle East are spawning and expanding in his home country of Sweden, he naturally fails to see that the misogyny and racism that shape the thinking of much of the Arab world are also very much a part of modern Sweden, imported together with its large influx of immigrants from the Arab and wider Muslim worlds.
Just as Israelis are on the front line facing an ongoing assault by aggressive Islamism, so too are blonde, blue-eyed Swedish girls on the front lines of the war at home, defending themselves against an attacking force about which it is not politically correct to speak in Sweden.
The thinking in Sweden seems to be that a problem ignored is one less problem to deal with. Swedish boys don’t have to fend off misogynistic attacks, Swedish girls do. They recognize the problems I spotlight. During my presentations, I get some questions from male students about “Israeli violence” and “Israeli human rights abuses,” but I get large numbers of emails after my presentations from female students who see in themselves and their situation just what Israel is going through.
Of course, this is a reality that Wernstedt would not recognize because he is the very epitome of a Swedish “thinker” on the Middle East: lazy, prejudiced, mainstream, unprincipled and averse to facts for fear they may interfere with his preconceived notions.
Which is fine if your name is Michael Wernstedt. But irresponsible if you are the grandnephew of Raoul Wallenberg and are abusing that name to make a name for yourself.
Michael Wernstedt should be ashamed of himself for tarnishing the name of a true Swedish hero.

The writer is deputy chairman of the west Sweden branch of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Association. (www.ilyameyer.com)