Swedish opposition head blasted for failure to praise Israel

Anna Kinberg Batra presented herself as a friend ahead of her visit, but ‘she did not deliver the goods,’ official fumes

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Swedish opposition leader Anna Kinberg Batra, left, with Likud MK Amir Ohana, at the Knesset, September 5, 2016 (courtesy Knesset Foreign Affairs Division)
Swedish opposition leader Anna Kinberg Batra, left, with Likud MK Amir Ohana, at the Knesset, September 5, 2016 (courtesy Knesset Foreign Affairs Division)

Israeli officials on Tuesday accused Sweden’s opposition leader of failing to make any pro-Israel statements during her recent visit, arguing that she misled them in presenting herself as a friend who is visiting to counter the Stockholm government’s hostile stance toward Israel.

“We are disappointed with the visit of Swedish opposition leader [Anna] Kinberg Batra in Israel,” a senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel. “Before the visit, she presented herself as a close friend and gave us to understand that she would use her visit as a platform for positive statements about Israel. She did not deliver the goods.”

Ties between Jerusalem and the current center-left government in Stockholm have been frosty ever since Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014. They deteriorated even further as Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom made a series of controversial statements, including a call for a probe into Israel’s alleged extrajudicial executions of Palestinian assailants. In November 2015, she argued that a terror attack in Paris that killed 129 people was rooted in the frustrations of Muslims in the Middle East, including Palestinians.

Given Kinberg Batra’s status as leader of the opposition, and her ostensible indications that she would criticize her government’s hostile stance toward Israel and express herself positively about the country, she was given high-level meetings in Jerusalem, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.

But during her stay over the last few days, Kinberg Batra did not make “any significant comment” that would demonstrate a fundamental difference between her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those of Wallstrom, the official noted, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Israel expected that she would be different in her approach to Israel and this didn’t happen.”

In fact, in an interview published Sunday, she vowed to criticize Israeli settlements as “unacceptable,” while stopping short of issuing any criticism of the Palestinians.

In a document the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent reporters before Kinberg Batra’s arrival, her attitude toward Israel was described as “moderate and balanced.” The document noted, however, that she had yet to make any public statements in support of Israeli policies. She had vehemently criticized the center-left government in Stockholm for recognizing Palestine as a state in 2014, but mostly on procedural grounds — the decision was not discussed and voted on in parliament — not for substantive reasons.

On Monday, Kinberg Batra met for an hour with Netanyahu, whose office did not issue statements or release photographs of the meeting.

Speaking to Expressen newspaper, she said had a “very constructive conversation” with the prime minister, adding that they discussed the “dynamic and turbulent region” around Israel and the path toward a two-state solution. “The prime minister strives for a two-state solution,” she said, declining to provide further details about the content of the conversation.

Asked how she would change Stockholm’s policies toward Israel if she became prime minister, Kinberg Batra replied: “I want Sweden to, as soon as possible, and I hope that this gains support in Sweden, to improve relations with Israel… This trip is not about Swedish domestic policies, but about much larger issues, for example how we can improve on our exchanges and the path moving forward.”

Asked how she conveyed her criticism of Israel’s settlement policy to Netanyahu, Kinberg Batra said that the content of the conversation would stay between them, but added that “it is well-known what Sweden and the EU’s stance is, and it is of course important that the work to reach a two-state solution moves forward.”

On Sunday, in a previous interview with Expressen, she vowed to criticize the settlements in her meeting with the prime minister. “Obviously there is criticism to deliver against the settlements, which are of course unacceptable,” she said.

Kinberg Batra, the leader of the center-right Moderate Party, on Monday told Israeli lawmakers at the Knesset that prior to her arrival, Wallstrom, the Swedish foreign minister, asked her to relay the message that she opposes the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.

But Jerusalem shrugged Wallstrom’s ostensible olive branch off as meaningless. “It is indeed a strange state of affairs that the Swedish foreign minister has to convey messages to us through the head of the opposition,” the senior official said.

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