A senior member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and a delegation of US Republican and European lawmakers canceled a briefing Thursday with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely over a refusal to allow a Swedish far-right member of the group into the meeting, The Times of Israel has learned.
Becky Norton Dunlop, deputy to the senior adviser on Trump’s transition team for policy and personnel, is in Israel as part of the three-day Jerusalem Leaders Summit, a gathering of conservative parliamentarians from the US and Europe.
As one of the high-level briefings organized for the group, the delegation was due to meet Wednesday morning with Hotovely in the Knesset.
Just hours before the briefing, the group was informed that Kristina Winberg, a member of the European Parliament for the Sweden Democrats, would not be allowed to join.
In protest, the entire group, including Dunlop, decided to boycott the meeting with Hotovely, according to a representative for the group.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said the decision to exclude Winberg was made due to her party’s far-right and ultra-nationalist positions.
“The Swedish representative is a member of a party with neo-Nazi tendencies and therefore the Foreign Ministry decided not to include her in the meeting with Hotovely,” Emmanuel Nahshon said. “Unfortunately the entire group decided to cancel the meeting.”
Describing itself as “social conservative with a nationalist foundation,” the Sweden Democrats party has been criticized in Sweden for its far-right and anti-immigration policies, particularly against what it calls the “Homosex lobby” and the “Islamization of Sweden.”
Earlier this month, the party kicked out one of its more prominent lawmakers for anti-Semitism after she proposed legislation to end “control of the media by any family or ethnic group,” referring to the Bonnier media group, whose controlling family has Jewish roots.
In October, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that the Sweden Democrats party had “Nazi and racist elements” following the publication of an email containing a racist joke about Jews and other minorities written by the party’s deputy vice-chair.
Nahshon confirmed that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s decision to cancel a speech at the Jerusalem Leader’s Summit on Tuesday was also connected to Winberg’s participation.
A spokesperson for Hotovely confirmed the deputy minister had acted on the instruction of the Foreign Ministry.
On Tuesday, the group received a briefing by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director Jeremy Issacharoff in which Winberg was also asked not to attend.
This is not the first time officials tied to the incoming Trump administration have been criticized for ostensible support for far-right or neo-Nazi groups. Trump’s pick of Steve Bannon as chief strategist has irked many in the US Jewish community over his embrace of the white nationalist, racist “alt-right” movement while at the helm of the Breitbart news website.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, said earlier this month that he was not concerned about Bannon or about a rise in anti-Semitism under Trump.
Netanyahu has, however, butted heads with the Swedish government, led by the left-wing Social Democratic party, over its position on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Last week Israeli officials declined to meet with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Though Wallstrom requested meetings with Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, her efforts were rejected — ostensibly due to scheduling conflicts, though Israeli officials have unofficially said the Swedish diplomat is unwelcome due to her controversial statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The 61-year-old Social Democrat has repeatedly enraged Israel, starting with Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after she became foreign minister in October 2014.
In the wake of last November’s terror attacks in Paris, she identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the factors explaining why “there are so many people who have become radicalized” — comments Israel called “appallingly impudent.”
Hotovely, a member of the Likud party and an outspoken right-winger, herself blasted Walstrom’s comments as “a mix of blindness and political stupidity.”
Israel has made clear in the past that Wallstrom would not be a welcome visitor in the country, and in January Netanyahu called her critiques outrageous, immoral, wrong and stupid.
Sweden’s decision to recognize the state of Palestine in October 2014 infuriated Israel and prompted it to recall its ambassador to Stockholm. He returned a month later.