Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry Wednesday evening to summon the Swedish ambassador for a dressing down, after the Swedish foreign minister said Israel should investigate the “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians.
Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser was “urgently invited to the ministry and rebuked by Deputy Director Aviv Shir-on,” a Foreign Ministry statement read.
The censure was triggered by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s call for an investigation into alleged extrajudicial Israeli executions of Palestinian attackers. During a parliamentary debate in the Riksdag on Tuesday, Wallstrom said it was “vital” to investigate into Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Palestinian attackers in order to “bring about possible accountability.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry described her statements Tuesday as “irresponsible and delusional,” saying that they encouraged further attacks against Israelis.
Shir-on protested Wallstrom’s comment, and also conveyed the “fury of the government and people of Israel over the distorted presentation of reality, as well as (over) another comment which indicates that her approach to Israel is biased, and even hostile,” a statement from the ministry said.
“Wallstrom’s comments point to her misunderstanding of what is happening in our region, and she is likely unaware of the difficult situation Israeli citizens are in, with constant danger of murderous terror attacks,” the statement continued. “In light of the damaging and baseless positions of the Swedish minister, she has removed herself, and Sweden, in the near future, from any role — or any semblance of a role — in handling the relations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold echoed the statements in a Wednesday speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, meeting this week in Jerusalem.
“Those that attack Israel’s right to defend itself against acts of terror, actively encourage the terror itself,” he said.
Wallstrom made her remarks after lawmaker Jan Björklund charged that the foreign minister’s previous criticisms of Israeli policies vis-a-vis Palestinian attackers were unfair, and that Wallstrom’s approach to the Jewish state damaged Sweden’s diplomatic efforts in the region.
The foreign minister rejected the accusation and asserted that Stockholm was “a friend to Israel just as it is a friend to Palestine.”
Earlier Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Swedish officials would not be welcome in Israel, but a senior official said the prime minister — who is also the foreign minister — was unaware of any policy changes.
“Israel is closing its gates to official visits from Sweden,” Hotovely said during a briefing for future Israeli diplomats currently taking the cadets’ course.
Her chief of staff, Noam Sela, later told The Times of Israel that there had been various requests by Swedish officials for visits, but that Jerusalem had decided not to “advance” them. “Our relations are currently not at their very best, to say the least. We’re not interested in hosting them here.”
Later, Sela clarified that only the foreign minister and her deputy would be prevented from Israel.
Indeed, at the very time Hotovely appeared to bar all Swedish officials from entering the country, the third deputy speaker of the Swedish parliament, Esabelle Dingizian, was in Israel on an official visit. A delegation of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences is also currently visiting in Israel and has met with senior Israeli officials.
Jerusalem’s policy to discourage visits from top Swedish government officials has actually been in place since before Hotovely took office. In January 2015, when Avigdor Liberman was still foreign minister, Wallstrom had planned to come to Israel but was told that neither the president, nor the prime minister or the foreign minister would be available to receive her. In addition, she was made to understood that she had to arrange her own security detail, as Israel refused to provide her with security. Wallstrom later canceled the planned visit, citing “scheduling differences.”
At least 25 Israelis have been killed, mostly in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks, since a wave of Palestinian terrorism began in the fall. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed, most while carrying out or attempting attacks — Israel has identified 91 of the Palestinians killed as attackers — and others in violent clashes with security forces.
Israeli officials have maintained that security services are justified in killing suspected attackers, and that making a greater effort to neutralize them without killing them would generate unnecessary risk.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.